When the Montreal Expos became the Washington Nationals back in 2004, Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos was opposed to the deal. He argued that the Washington ballclub would affect is viewership and income, and as a result, Major League Baseball helped him set up his own network, the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, which would also broadcast the Nats. The Nats own part of MASN, but the O’s have by far the bigger share. The owners in DC want to change that.
According to Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com, “baseball officials will decide…the annual rights fee that the Nationals will receive from MASN” now that the teams were unable to come to an amicable agreement. This will have huge and far-reaching implications on the future of the Washington Nationals organization. The Nats play in one of the ten largest TV markets in the country, yet they earn just $29 million every year from MASN. In comparison, according to Rosenthal’s article, the San Diego Padres got a $200 million upfront bonus and earn $50 millon each year in the 28th largest TV market with a not-so-good team.
TV deals are among the largest revenue sources for MLB teams, and the Nationals are no exception. The Nats can only rely on ticket revenue and rich owners for so long before significant income will have to come from other sources, and the logical place to look is a better TV deal. The $29 million they earn from MASN each year is at an insultingly low level compared to the market size and other deals.
It’s easy to think that the Nats are fine in their current situation if you look at recent deals made by the team. They signed JaysonWerth to a $126 million deal, extended Ryan Zimmerman with a deal worth $100 million, and extended Gio Gonzalez for $42 million. The Lerner family has proven they’re willing to spend significant dollars for the right players for the organization.
But what about a few years from now? It’s easy to not think that far ahead, but in the next four to five years, on top of other free agent signings and deals that will inevitably happen, the Nats are going to have to find money to sign Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, and Jordan Zimmermann. The extensions for these three players, especially Strasburg and Harper, may end up being gargantuan if their first signing bonuses are any indication. They may also have to worry about Danny Espinosa, Anthony Rendon, and Matt Purke, among others.
The bottom line: the Nats have gotten to this point by spending a relatively low amount of money. Despite a significant increase in payroll recently, the Nats are still 20th in MLB in player salaries at just over $81 million, but that could stand to significantly increase in the fairly near future, and if they aren’t able to find another source of income, the future success of the team could be in jeopardy. The Lerners want to put a winning product on the field for years to come, but that’s just not possible without more money and renegotiating the annual fees with MASN would open the door to new possibilities.