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Washington Nationals fans will suffer again from MASN struggles

Once again, the Nats’ TV broadcasters will start the season calling road games remotely...

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masn production truck

Once again in 2022, Washington and Baltimore baseball fans will suffer because of the apparent financial struggles of the regional sports network owned by the Orioles and Nationals.

So when you’re watching a Nats or Orioles’ road game on the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network this season, the broadcasters won’t have any better or closer a view of the action than you.

That’s been the case for most major league teams since the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, when teams stopped sending broadcasters to cover road games. But as The Athletic’s Dan Connolly first reported, MASN will again not be sending their broadcast teams on the road with the ballclubs, at least to start the 2022 season.

Play-by-play man Bob Carpenter and new analyst Kevin Frandsen will call games from the TV booth at Nationals Park, while production personnel at an in-park control room work with freelance camera crews and production trucks in each city on the road.

Even the best in the business can’t call a game watching TV monitors as well as they can watching the actual, live game. The broadcaster is totally dependent on whatever shot and camera angle they see on the monitor. Fly balls, pop-ups, leads, stolen bases, overthrows — you name it, someone watching the center-field shot on a monitor likely won’t see it.

Hiring out for production on the road is not uncommon in the sports broadcast industry, but until the pandemic, the on-air talent was always live on location. According to The Athletic report, only the Nationals and Orioles, and possibly the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, will call road games remotely this season.

MASN cited concerns over COVID and the health and safety of employees, according to The Athletic. But that doesn’t explain why other teams feel it’s safe for their broadcasters to get the whole story as pandemic restrictions are lifting nationwide. The more likely motivation is financial, rooted in a more than decade-old legal struggle over $100 million in broadcast rights fees.

MASN was created to jointly carry Orioles and Nationals games because Orioles’ principal owner Peter Angelos objected to the Montreal Expos’ move to Washington in 2005. The network is jointly owned by the Orioles and Nationals, but the Orioles own the controlling interest and operate MASN, which is headquartered in Baltimore.

The Nationals and MASN are fighting in court over broadcast rights fees for the 2012 through 2016 seasons. A revenue-sharing committee appointed by Major League Baseball awarded the Nationals $100 million in 2014, and MASN has been appealing ever since.

An initial appeal sent the dispute back to MLB, which again ruled in the Nationals’ favor. MASN is currently appealing a New York state appellate court ruling in favor of the Nats to the New York State Supreme Court.

Further complicating the situation is the failing health of Angelos, 92, and concerns about the status of his estate, the team, and the network in the future.

Every major league team had to scramble to broadcast games during 2020. But when the schedule returned to almost normal last season, MASN scaled back its programming and cut notable on-air talent for both teams, including former studio host Dan Kolko, who is now employed by the Nationals.

The result is a network and ownership that are either unable or unwilling to spend the money necessary to put on a major league caliber production. MASN could potentially save millions by not incurring travel costs for broadcasters and production staff, while sacrificing the quality of its broadcast.

The Nationals’ broadcasters are established professionals with great reputations, but through no fault of their own, MASN viewers won’t be seeing their best work this season.

But even with a noticeable drop in quality, a subscription to a cable or satellite system carrying MASN is still a necessity for Nationals fans who want to see every game.

MLB still will not carry home games on its streaming subscription service, and MASN’s app won’t let you watch unless you have that cable or satellite subscription.

So once again we have intransigent, financially hamstrung ownership devaluing a product over which it has a monopoly. If it’s good enough for a baseball owner, it’s certainly good enough for a side business they want to spin off anyway.

MASN was created to indulge Angelos after he complained about the business competition he’d get from a new team in his territory, but it hasn’t been particularly successful.

Los Angeles Dodgers v Washington Nationals Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Now, after two years of pandemic losses, it looks like it’s not even going to try to compete with its peers in other markets, at least to start the season.

The solution to this problem will likely not come until the Orioles, and MASN have new ownership that will either run the network competitively or, more practically, create separate networks for the competing baseball teams.

Until then, Nats fans who want to watch their team will likely have to take advice paraphrased former Nats’ reliever Joey Eischen, when he was told of Angelos’ objection to the Expos’ move to Washington. They'll have to watch an inferior broadcast and like it.