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Orioles, Nationals Involved In TV Rights Lawsuit

The TV rights dispute between the Orioles and Nationals has gone public. This has the potential to be very bad news for Bud Selig and MLB.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Hollywood Reporter is not known for its baseball coverage, but today they dropped a bombshell. Commissioner Bud Selig is not pleased.

Go ahead and read the whole article. It's a warning about how contentious TV rights fees have become. While the Orioles and Nationals are a unique case, the repercussions could be felt in other areas.

As you all know, the Orioles were not happy when the Expos moved to Washington and became the Nationals. While the Orioles never had official territorial rights to the District of Columbia or Northern Virginia, they had broadcast their games there for decades and certainly had broadcasting rights. So in order to make the Orioles and their owner Peter Angelos happy, MLB helped them create the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN), gave the Orioles controlling interest in the network and had the Nationals sign a sweetheart, under-market TV deal with them.

That agreement ran out in 2011.

Since then, the Nationals and Orioles have been unable to come to agreement on the value of Nationals TV broadcasts. Here, both sides are probably to blame with the Nats asking for the moon and the Orioles offering the change they got from going to Family Dollar. So the games continued to be broadcast on MASN and MLB chipped in some money to the Nationals on the understanding that they'd pay MLB back when the final agreement was reached.

The two sides never came to an agreement, so the dispute went to arbitration set up by MLB. On June 30, the decision came back in favor of the Nationals.

Here's where things get scary for MLB and commissioner Selig. The Orioles are refusing to accept the arbitration result and have started a lawsuit against the Nationals and MLB. The Nationals are countersuing, asking for the money they're owed.

This has the potential to be the biggest crisis in baseball since the 1994 strike. If such a case gets anywhere near a court, both sides will be asked to provide all financial information, which will then be a matter of public record for everyone to see. Considering how closely MLB keeps its finances secret, this is not something Selig wants anyone to see.

The commissioner's office has threatened to take "the strongest sanctions available" against any owner who sues MLB or another team in a court of law. As The Hollywood Reporter points out, the "strongest sanctions available" is what happened to Frank McCourt and the Dodgers. (Yes, McCourt agreed to sell, but only after MLB told him they'd sell the club for him if he didn't.)

This is not how Selig wants his tenure as commissioner to end. Teams suing each other is something that hasn't happened in a century. But unless the Orioles back down and accept the arbitration decision, I don't see how this doesn't blow up in MLB's face. And Orioles owner Peter Angelos made his fortune suing people.

(H/T Hardball Talk)