Are the Baltimore Orioles in big trouble? And no, I’m not talking on the field. Wins and losses has very little relevance in this discussion. Well, maybe just a little. But not much.
The Orioles have been in and out of court fighting with the Washington Nationals on the MASN television deal since 2011. I’m not going to get into the specifics of the deal or the case, short of saying that one could argue that there’s at least an appearance of a wink-and-a-nod deal between MLB and Washington. Basically the league saying that they’ll never have to live up to the deal.
MASN owns the television rights for both teams in perpetuity. However if MASN were to cease to exist, it’s unclear what would happen. Odds are the teams would each retain their own rights, and sell them to the highest bidder. But even that’s not the main issue.
Peter Angelos is not a popular owner in the league office. He hasn’t been since 1994 when he publicly stood with the players against the owners. Then came all of the litigation and threats thereof when MLB wanted to put a team in Washington. And now this.
Peter Angelos is in ill health, according to multiple reports. We know that his sons, Lou and John, have in essence been running the team. So the Orioles’ ownership status is in somewhat of a state of flux. In fact, I suspect that the Angelos family would like to do what Washington just did (in an unrelated matter), where owner Ted Lerner in essence handed the team off to his son Mark.
However the league has very publicly made it clear that they can make the Orioles’ lives miserable – unless the Orioles play ball (meaning on the MASN deal). This could include future schedules, hosting an all-star game, or even ownership issues. The implication there is that the commissioner might not approve a “sale” (or more likely a hand off) of the team from Peter Angelos to his sons.
Say what you want about Peter Angelos, but he made a commitment to keep the team in Baltimore. And given that his sons are Baltimore-area residents and natives, there’s no reason to believe that they aren’t just as invested in keeping the team here. That wasn’t always guaranteed with other potential ownership groups. What if Peter Angelos passes away at some point and the league refuses to approve his sons as the new owners?
At that point they basically force them to sell the team. But what about MASN? Regardless of whether the network still exists and is operated by the Angelos family or not, that’s where it could get hairy for the Orioles. If you uncouple the Birds from MASN, they aren’t worth anywhere near as much. So that said, is a new owner going to have the same incentives to keep the team here as the Angelos’ did?
If the team were purchased by a local guy such as Steve Bisciotti (the Ravens’ owner), I think that things would be fine. But do Orioles’ fans really want to run that risk? Once Washington got a team, MLB didn’t have a city to dangle out there to convince teams to play their game – otherwise the team could move there. Now suddenly we hear that the league would like to return a team to Montreal, or even go to Charlotte, NC.
I’m not suggesting that the Orioles should play the game MLB wants them to play. To do so in essence would be to collude against themselves. This all the while when attendance and ratings are down. I always say that cities only really need to consider that the team could move if it gets sold to an out-of-town businessman. (In essence, people don’t move teams out of their hometowns.) But again, regardless of what they might think of the Angelos’, do O’s fans want to run that risk?