Both sides in the TV rights fee dispute involving MASN and the Washington Nationals declared at least a measure of victory following a New York State Appeals Court ruling July 13.
The two sides have been contesting how much the Nationals should be paid by MASN for TV rights to broadcast Washington's games, along with exactly how those fees should be determined. The Baltimore Orioles own a large controlling interest in MASN.
The appeals court's five-member panel reinforced an earlier ruling, 5-0, that vacated an MLB committee's decision that MASN owed the Nationals nearly $300 million in rights fees. Obviously, MASN and the Orioles were happy with that part of the recent decision.
However, the Nationals claimed a "major legal victory" in the appeals court's ruling, by a 3-2 margin, that the MLB committee in this instance -- known as the Revenue Sharing Definitions Committee (RSDC) -- is where the rights fees dispute should be resolved. The Nationals have argued that its contract with MASN specifies how disputes should be settled -- by the RSDC.
"The Nationals are gratified that the appeals court recognized the importance of enforcing contractual arbitration agreements," said Stephen Neuwirth of Quinn Emanuel, who represented the Nationals. "We look forward to finally having the rights fees determined in the forum the parties chose."
The committee's composition, a combination of MLB team owners and executives, changes periodically, so any committee that would consider the dispute in the future would comprise a different membership than the one that awarded the Nationals nearly $300 million several years ago.
The Orioles balked at the RSDC's first award of nearly $300 million, contending that the law firm which represented the Nationals also did work for MLB as well as the organizations of some who served on the committee, according to published reports. The Orioles have continued to argue that the committee should not be resolving the dispute.
At issue is money the Nationals argue MASN owes the Washington baseball team for the contract that spans 2012-2016 as well as for a second contract period of 2017-2021. In a statement, the Nationals said, "The disputed amounts exceed more than $100 million for each of these five-year periods."
Regarding the appeals court ruling, Orioles lawyer Carter Phillips of Sidley Austin said his side was certainly happy to have the court affirm the previous court's ruling concerning the rights fees award, but took issue with the majority ruling about the RSDC being the final arbiter.
"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," Phillips said in a statement.
Phillips referred to the opinion offered by one of the dissenting judges, Presiding Justice Rolando Acosta, who offered 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."
While the ultimate resolution of the high-stakes financial dispute remains unclear, what does seem certain is the long-running dispute will involve more lengthy wrangling.