Tucked away in this Sports Business Daily article about Fox's ongoing quest to amass an empire of regional sports networks is this nugget, concerning Fox's attempts to buy MASN, the network that broadcasts Orioles and Nationals games, from Orioles owner Peter Angelos:
Fox's involvement in talks with MASN came at MLB's urging, sources said. MASN still is involved in a rights fee dispute with the Nationals. That dispute hasn't been resolved, though both parties met at MLB's New York offices last week. MLB hoped that a deal with Fox would solve the dispute. MASN and Fox have not met for several weeks, and no further talks are scheduled.
Why is MLB encouraging Fox to buy up the baseball network? Because baseball is at the mercy of the existing local monopoly that Angelos holds over Baltimore and Washington. The rights-fee dispute, as the Washington Post has written, is about Angelos refusing to give the Nationals a bigger share of MASN's baseball revenue. The Nats, citing the exploding value of sports broadcast rights, have reportedly asked for $110 million a year in rights fees. Angelos has offered them $34 million.
Angelos is in a position to screw the Nationals, as the Baltimore Sun writes, because the league specifically awarded him the power to do so:
MASN formed when MLB wanted to move the Montreal Expos to D.C. Angelos pointed out how much that would hurt his market and eventually leveraged his complaint into a remarkable deal. He owns most of the network, and his decreasing share will eventually bottom out at 67 percent (it's currently at 87).
So now the Nationals, an up-and-coming young club, want more money to help keep their core together. And Angelos, the owner of a neighboring and competing franchise, doesn't feel like giving them more money. He agreed to accept the team's relocation to Washington in exchange for being granted control of a moneymaking machine—and now, in addition to merely making money, he can protect his own team's regional market share by putting the squeeze on the competition's revenue stream.
In other words, Angelos got exactly what he negotiated for. And now the league is trying to get out of the deal through back channels, by "urging" Fox to buy their way out. But what can Fox offer that's more valuable than what Angelos already has?