Friday, April 29, 2005

Blacked Out Again

Remember how I pondered a conversion to membership of "Nationals District" during the offseason? I know, in retrospect it seemed a little half-hearted, but among my arguments for the big switch I mentioned the enjoyment of getting to watch my team night in and night out on local TV -- a sure "pro" in favor of the Nattys. That particular point is not only moot at this point, it's bizarrely contradictory.

There has been a very peculiar parallel between the increasingly publicized struggles of New Yorkers unable to watch Mets games and the until-recently under-vocalized absence of Nationals games on DC TV. They aren't the same situation, but the coincidence is still odd to me.

Mets fans in the tri-state area are left in the dark thanks to a tête-á-tête between Cablevision and Time Warner, but at least their plight has an end in sight with the Mets Network set to ramp up next year. That's not making it any more palatable for the radio-doomed Townshippers in '05, who don't see either side budging any time soon. If more national press could expose the greed, stubbornness, and corporate antics of the parties involved, one or both of the guilty parties might do the right thing and give the addicts their fix of Metball. Until then, Bob Murphy is missed even more than usual.

Meanwhile, down here in Nat-ville, there are more corporate cretins to blame . . . ostensibly. Comcast Sports Net and the newly formed Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN) are at odds over MASN's arrival as the regional network to cover both Nationals and Orioles games. How can one channel air games for two teams, you ask? Good question, and while today's glut of channels at our fingertips may make you think that it's feasible, we're already seeing the effects of this shady, shoddy, shitty arrangement.

MASN (if only this slapped-together "network" could air on channel 9, since the punny connotations of MASN-9 are just too perfect) is supposedly airing Nationals games this year, with the O's projected to leap to MASN next year. That's where the big business brouhaha comes in -- Comcast is suing to keep the Orioles on their station. In theory, this would be the only year to see all the Nationals games, as next year the station might be forced to choose between the Baltimore and Washington games. Ah, yes, and in theory, a major sports league's front office couldn't possibly justify owning one of its franchises for three years while it foundered in limbo. Instead, roughly half of the Nationals games are airing on television in the Washington metropolitan area, and I'd be surprised if it's been 50% thus far. Today's Washington Post fleshes out the problem nicely and spells out the obvious problem with the current set-up: how is a brand new team supposed to gain a foothold in the new market without a TV audience?

It's not.

Which is why knowing who the brokers of the deal are takes this whole episode from simply stupid to sketchy, borderline criminal. The perpetrators: Major League Baseball and Peter "Diablos" Angelos. It all makes sense now, doesn't it? Angelos has a 90% stake in MASN, the Nationals' TV channel. So not only are they not going to air very many baseball games for his competition, but also -- who'd want to buy this franchise at MLB's MSRP of $400 million+ with these battleship-bowline-sized strings attached? Some arrogant buffoon with more money than brains, I guess. (Daniel Snyder, is that your phone ringing?) As it stands, the whole scenario has the ownership deal on hold for the time being, which only bodes ill for the Nationals. Unlike the Mets' quandary, though, there is no timetable for the situation's reparation. If MLB operates at its normal pace (if you squint, you can see the tortoise quickly pulling away), next winter will come and go without a resolution to this hideous mess, leaving the Washington franchise destined for another 5th place finish.

This has to be Bud Selig's last straw. I'd like to see the market for the Nationals plummet, based on this numb-skulled giveaway to Angelos and see the other 29 owners enraged at the front office's further bungling of this ludicrous chain of events. Honestly, at this point my faith in Gary Bettman to get things done right is twice what I'd invest in Selig.

The bottom line is that you can't watch the local club on any given night. And while that's senseless and infuriating to local fans, it -- coupled with my acquisition of the baseball package, enabling me to see more of the Mets than many NYC locals -- has made my decision to stick to my guns and hoe the road of a Mets fan seem infinitely wiser.

Gotta tell you -- it still pisses me off, though.

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