But MLB is aware that any new owner would want to know how much money they would receive from MASN for the team’s regional media rights. An MLB official said Tuesday that it is engaged in negotiations over certainty about that future revenue — a step that could give Leonsis’ group the confidence to move forward with its bid.
A spokesperson for Monumental Sports, owner of the NBA Wizards, WNBA Mystics and NHL Capitals, declined to comment.
The Baltimore Orioles control MASN, which owns the Nationals’ local media rights. This agreement, reached in 2005 as part of the deal that allowed MLB to move the Expos from Montreal to Washington, has been acrimonious from the start and led to a decade of disputes over customs duties owed to the Nationals. In 2020, a New York state court ruled that the network owes the Nationals some $100 million in back paymentseven though the network appealed.
Although the battle over precedent rights persists between the Lerners and the family of Orioles owner Peter A. Angelos, MLB’s current effort is to ensure that a potential buyer knows what they would receive , which constitutes an important source of income for any professional sports franchise. Since purchasing the MLB team in 2006, the Lerners no longer have that certainty. Leonsis, people involved in the process said, would welcome that.
“It’s well established that MASN is a problem, a controversial topic,” a person with knowledge of the situation said Monday, speaking on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly . “MLB would like to find a solution. The Nats would like to find a solution. Hopefully the Orioles would like to find a solution.
Although Mark Lerner, the Nationals’ senior partner, has told associates in recent months that he would like his club to bring in something on the order of the $2.4 billion sale price of the New York Mets. dollars, some warned Lerner that the MASN situation could affect a potential sale price, according to people familiar with the discussions. Steve Cohen, who purchased the Mets in 2020, did not acquire the team’s television rights and is reportedly interested in purchasing SportsNet New York, which owns them. There is no easy path for the Nationals’ new owners to take control of the team’s local television rights.
The terms of the MASN deal have long frustrated Lerners and Nationals fans, who deplore the presentation of games on MASN and struggles over customs duties. But the agreement remains a key element of any sale. According to the 2005 settlement agreement between the Orioles and MLB, “all relevant terms, conditions and obligations of this Agreement shall be made known to any purchaser(s) of the Nationals, now and in the future, and that the Nationals Assumption The obligations under this Agreement shall become a binding condition of the purchase of the Nationals franchise.
The agreement continues: “The Nationals and Major League Baseball represent and warrant that they will take all other steps reasonably necessary to bind any subsequent purchaser of the Nationals to the terms and conditions set forth in this Agreement. »
Marc Ganis, president of Sportscorp, a consulting agency that advised the Chicago Tribune on the sale of the Chicago Cubs in 2009, said in an interview that he was surprised that MASN would be a sticking point in any sale because the The deal is “long-winded and if it reduces the value it should be reflected in the sale price.”
In other words, the MASN deal is transferable, so it remains to be seen how much that affects the team’s value. MLB has a vested interest in the Nationals selling for a premium, and resolving the MASN rights issue would be an important step toward solidifying the club’s value.
Regardless of how the MASN situation affects the final price, some people familiar with the sales process believe it affects the timeline. During the summer it was hoped that a new owner could be chosen by November. But barring a major change in circumstances, the Nationals won’t begin their offseason with a new ownership group in place — or even, it seems, with one on the way.
Although many people in and around the Lerners and the Nationals believe Leonsis is the leader, a person familiar with the process cautioned that several outcomes are still possible: that the Lerners could accept a minority investor, which some equity firms do -investment have made with others. professional sports franchises; that an individual could be recruited as a minority investor with the intention of becoming majority owner over time; or that the Lerners could keep the franchise completely.
But MLB wouldn’t work to determine MASN’s revenue for a future owner if it didn’t have a serious candidate to buy the franchise.
Meanwhile, the business of the offseason – both on the business and baseball sides – lies ahead. While the Lerner family made the decision to keep president of baseball operations Mike Rizzo and manager Dave Martinez under contract through next year, neither appears to guarantee longevity without clarity on who will own the team for the long term.
Two front office members who spoke on condition of anonymity to candidly discuss the topic indicated a feeling of a “lame offseason” due to uncertainty over who will own the team and how much the Lerners will be willing to spend. if they still own the team and when all that could change.
Such uncertainty will likely limit the Nationals’ payroll spending. They currently have just over $94 million committed to their planned Opening Day team next season, according to Cot’s baseball contracts. Two-thirds of that amount goes to two players, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin, who are each owed $35 million in 2024.