Orioles Take Their TV Case to FCC


Major League Baseball's Baltimore Orioles went on the offensive against Comcast Corp. last Tuesday, asking the Federal Communications Commission to compel the MSO to immediately carry the Orioles-run Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN) and its telecasts of Washington Nationals baseball games.

A day earlier, the Orioles asked a Maryland court to dismiss a Comcast lawsuit filed last April against the team for starting up MASN in violation of the Orioles' TV deal with Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic.

At the FCC, the Orioles — through broadcasting company TCR Sports Broadcasting Holding LLP — said Comcast is violating commission rules barring companies from discriminating against carrying competing services to protect their own network assets or demanding equity in return for carriage.

TCR claims Comcast sought equity in MASN — co-owned by the Orioles and MLB — in return for carriage, and has never negotiated in good faith.

The motion also claims Comcast tried to influence other area cable operators into not carrying the network, currently airing 68 Nationals games and on deck to show Orioles games in 2007.

“There is an express rule that Comcast is violating by discriminating against MASN in favor of Comcast SportsNet,” said David C. Frederick, an attorney for the Orioles.

Comcast responded that it never sought equity in MASN and that its decision not to carry the service — currently distributed in the Washington, D.C., market by DirecTV and several small area systems — was based solely on arguments laid out in a lawsuit against the Orioles and MLB.

Comcast claimed the deal between the league and the Orioles to start MASN in 2007 violates CSN's current cable agreement with the Orioles. CSN asserts exclusive negotiating rights to renew with the Orioles through Nov. 1, 2005, and the right to match any agreement the Orioles make with a third party.

“Program-carriage rules have never required a cable operator to carry a network that was created [in part] through a breach of contract with that cable operator,” Comcast spokeswoman D'Arcy Rudnay said last week.

In Montgomery County, Md., circuit court, the Orioles claimed the team's rights belong to a holding group (TCR Sports Broadcasting Holding) that simply will retain the rights as part of the new MASN.