Craig Calcaterra

Rob Manfred

MLB slammed for its “utter lack of concern for fairness” in its arbitration with the Orioles

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For years, the Orioles and the TV network they own — MASN — have been in battle with the Nationals and Major League Baseball over money. Specifically, the notion of how much money MASN has to pay the Nats for the broadcast rights to Nationals games, which also appear on the network.

This is not historically been a freely negotiated amount. MASN has gotten Nats games on the cheap for years as part of the agreement in which the Orioles allowed the Nats to move into their territory after the franchise abandoned Montreal. The Nats get Washington and MASN — again, owned by Peter Angelos and the Orioles — get to make money on underpriced Nats programming. Per that agreement, the sides were to renegotiate after a set time, with the Nats getting something more like market rates as a result. Those negotiations have not gone well as the market value of TV rights has skyrocketed and MASN either can’t or won’t pay for both Nats and Orioles rights at such high rates.

Last year a three-member MLB arbitration panel decided that the Nationals should receive about $60 million in broadcast rights fees per year from MASN, which is WAY more than MASN and the Orioles want to pay. They thus appealed the ruling, not simply because they don’t like the number, but because they contend that the arbitration itself was gamed.

How? Because of the lawyers involved. The Nationals’ law firm –Proskauer Rose — commonly represents Major League Baseball and its owners as well. It also happened to represent the teams from which the three owners/team officials on the Nats-O’s arbitration panel sat (i.e. Jeff Wilpon of the Mets, Stuart Sternberg of the Rays and Frank Coonelly of the Pirates). The panel ruled against the Orioles and MASN, and the O’s and MASN argued that it did so because the arbitration was biased in favor of MLB and, in turn, the Nats.

Today a New York judge agreed, tossing out the ruling and excoriating Major League Baseball for an inherently unfair arbitration process, specifically because the same lawyers represented both a party to the arbitration AND the arbitrators themselves:

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The court had a hard time getting to that point because it could literally not find another example where the entity which ran the arbitration, here MLB, allowed for the arbitrators and one of the parties to have such a blatant conflict of interest. The court seems absolutely gobsmacked, in fact, that MLB didn’t even attempt to do something to remedy this basic unfairness in the process. I’m not sure myself why MLB wouldn’t do that, given that even a first-year lawyer could identify this fundamental flaw in the proceeding and suggest that, maybe, something should be done about it.

But that’s sports league culture for you. A fundamental arrogance at the league/ownership level, which is comprised of people who (a) have been selected to go along to get along with the league simply in order to be allowed into the ownership ranks in the first place; and (b) who don’t have anyone outside of their little club who can ever tell them what to do including, in most cases, courts and Congress. They have spent most of their professional lives and all of their professional sports lives doing exactly what they wanted and answering to no one, so why should they bother to do so here?

Like the NFL and Deflategate, MLB just got its butt handed to it by a judge who was nowhere near as impressed with the league’s handling of internal matters as the league itself is. Now, the league will either have to accept terms from Peter Angelos or go through the entire process again, during which time the Nats will continue to not receive market value for their TV rights and the league’s legal bills go up and up.

And it all could’ve been avoided with some basic, elementary prudence.

The Milwaukee Brewers were paid by the military for “God Bless America” performances

Flag waving fans
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Back in May, NJ.com reported that the Department of Defense actually used tax dollars to pay for patriotic displays at sporting events. This controversy has come to be referred to as a “pay-for-patriotism” scandal and has called into question the various military-related salutes, promotions and events we see at college and professional sporting events. Are they genuinely heartfelt gestures or mainipulative and paid-for recruitment ads? Some are one, some are the other, some are both, it seems. Our coverage of the matter can be seen here and here.

Today Sentators John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona released a report on the matter called “Tackling Paid Patriotism.” Aside from having a spiffy as heck cover, it details how much the military paid teams and leagues for these events, broken down on a team-by-team basis. Go check it out here. Baseball is covered on pages 33-45. The baseball highlights:

  • The Braves received the most DOD money, at $450,000, which is VASTLY more than any other baseball team received and they put on many, many more military-themed events than the other clubs. The next highest was the Red Sox at $100,000, the Brewers at $80,000, the Rangers at $75,000 and the Mets at $51,000. The Phillies, Diamondbacks, Astros, Pirates and Indians all received less than $50,000. No other MLB teams were identified.
  • Most of the money to the clubs were for tributes, parades, promotions, appreciation days and tickets for the military. The Wisconsin Air National Guard, however, actually sponsored each Sunday performance of “God Bless America” during Brewers home games in 2014. The military also rented a private suite at Miller Park. The Texas Air National Guard sponsored a performance of the National Anthem at a Rangers game;
  • Despite the initial reports on this, including our own, not all of this stuff was stealth advertising. A lot of it was paying for tickets and meal vouchers for armed forces personnel, presumably as perks. Other things that were advertising were often labeled as such, including those “God Bless America” performances at Miller Park.

What to make of all of this? On the one hand, the aggregate money paid by the Department of Defense to professional sports teams was rounding error. Less than rounding error for the DOD, actually: $6.8 million since 2012. As someone I follow on Twitter who knows his way around Congressional work noted, it’s likely that this very report cost close to that. I mean, look again at that front page picture! That’s quality! We’re not talking about much money, especially for an advertising campaign.

On the other hand, this kind of advertising is still rather galling and manipulative, as fans are clearly led to believe that these salutes to the troops, “Hometown Hero” tributes and even renditions of “God Bless America” are public services by the team or, at the very least, spontaneous tributes. Which they’re clearly not. That’s especially true if it’s discovered — as I suspect it will be — that these efforts weren’t even effective as recruitment tools and, rather, did nothing more than cheapen genuine patriotism in a rather expensive way.

There is a huge amount of grandstanding going on here by Congress — these efforts aren’t illegal or fraudulent, even if they’re misguided and cynical — but I think it’s worth shining a light on the way in which the government has used sports to manipulate public sentiment about the military and patriotism in the past 15 years or so, and how sports have gladly accepted money to allow them to do it.

Sandy Alderson fainted during today’s press conference

Sandy Alderson
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Sandy Alderson and Mets brass were on hand late this morning to formally announce the two-year contract extension for Terry Collins. After the announcement and the formal presser, Alderson spoke with reporters informally about the Mets’ plans for the offseason.

Things got a little scary for a moment, however:

Rubin said that Alderson even made a bit of a joke when he got back up:

Hopefully this was just exhaustion from a tense and sleep-deprived couple of weeks.