MLB kicks money to the Nationals to keep them from suing over the MASN deal

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Jonah Keri has a great, in-depth story about the Orioles today. Specifically about their status as a team that rakes in money yet spends relatively little on payroll. He traces the arc of the team from the mid-90s to today, speaking with former Orioles officials and telling a really illuminating story about the team got to where it is. There’s a lot in there that we either didn’t know before or didn’t know quite as clearly.

There’s also a passage in the middle that discusses the Oriole’s TV partnership with the Nationals and the MASN regional sports network. Jonah explains it in detail, but the short version is that, while both the O’s and Nats get the same amount in rights fees from MASN, the Orioles own a much larger percentage of the network than the Nats do. The O’s reap huge profits — profits that are not subject to evenue-sharing — while the Nats get a relative pittance. Meanwhile, there’s a strong argument that the network’s subscription rates are undervalued, keeping even more money away from Washington.

At times there have been negotiations to change this arrangement and at times there have been threats of legal action by the Nationals to get a bigger piece of the pie. Keri reports, however, that there’s a good reason why no one has been sued yet:

For now, the MASN status quo remains. The Nationals aren’t completely helpless, though: According to a source close to the Washington franchise, MLB has sent the team an undisclosed sum every year to help bridge the gap, and to prevent the Lerners from taking matters to court, until the deal becomes more balanced.

That’s pretty astounding. It’s been pretty effective so far, sure, but it’s still pretty astounding. It’s also, one may assume, unsustainable. And in any case it is pretty telling of a system that is increasingly inequitable. If you own your network or struck your deal at just the right time, you’re flush. If not, you’re not. And if you’re flush you have a far greater ability to shield money from revenue sharing than the poor sisters are.

And that’s not very sustainable either.