Court: MLB Committee Can Determine Nationals’ Rights Fees

WASHINGTON (AP) — A committee of Major League Baseball owners and executives can determine how much money the Washington Nationals should receive from the Baltimore Orioles for television broadcasts of their games, an appeals court ruled Thursday.

The Nationals called it “a major legal victory.”

The ruling by a five-judge panel of the New York State Supreme Court is the latest chapter in the long-running dispute between the Nationals and the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, which is controlled by the Orioles. MASN was established in 2005 after the Montreal Expos relocated to Washington and became the Nationals, moving into what had been Baltimore’s exclusive broadcast territory since 1972.

In November 2015, a New York State Supreme Court judge threw out an arbitration decision that said MASN owes the Nationals $298 million for the team’s 2012-16 television rights. That decision was made by the same MLB panel that will now take up the dispute again, although the members of that panel have changed.

“The Nationals are gratified that the appeals court recognized the importance of enforcing contractual arbitration agreements,” attorney Stephen Neuwirth, who argued for the Nationals, said in a statement. “We look forward to finally having the rights fees determined in the forum the parties chose.”

The Orioles argued that the panel, known as the Revenue Sharing Definitions Committee, was biased in favor of the Nationals, but a majority of the judges rejected that claim. In a lengthy dissent, Presiding Justice Rolando Acosta, a former college pitcher, agreed with the Orioles, writing that “MLB’s pervasive bias and unfair conduct has infected the RSDC.”

The teams are apart by more than $100 million on the amount of money the Nationals should receive for TV rights in two five-year periods: 2012-16 and 2017-21.

Arnold Weiner of Rifkin Weiner Livingston LLC, counsel to the Baltimore Orioles Limited Partnership in its capacity as MASN’s managing partner, released the following statement:

“To my knowledge, for the first time in history, an internal MLB arbitration was vacated by the court and was done so unanimously. It’s one thing to declare victory, as the Nationals do, and it’s another thing to have actually won, which they didn’t.”

Carter Phillips of Sidley Austin, counsel for the Baltimore Orioles released the following statement:

“We are gratified that the court unanimously affirmed vacatur of MLB’s arbitration award and intend to pursue our right to further appellate review on the question of rehearing forum. We believe Presiding Justice Acosta correctly recognized in dissent that “MLB’s pervasive bias and unfair conduct has infected the RSDC so as to frustrate the parties’ intent to submit their dispute to a fundamentally fair arbitration,” and that the dissenting justices were correct in concluding that there was a “legal basis for referring the matter to a new arbitral forum”; “[t]he plurality is simply wrong in its assertion that ‘there is no basis, in law or in fact,” to order a rehearing in a different arbitral forum from the one originally selected by the parties.”

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(© Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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