Monday, April 17, 2006

Jim Williams: Angelos on the record
PDF EmailJim Williams, The ExaminerApr 17, 2006 7:00 AM (51 mins ago)
BALTIMORE - I have had the occasion in my more than 25 years of broadcasting and print reporting to interview prominent athletes, sports owners, network presidents and politicians. Few were as straightforward as Peter Angelos, owner of the Baltimore Orioles and the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network.
I met with Angelos in his Baltimore office to discuss MASN, the Nationals, the Orioles and baseball in general. He did not disappoint and answered every question with candor.
Jim Williams: At the special hearing on the Hill by the House Government Reform Committee you proposed a merger of MASN and Comcast SportsNet. Have you heard back from Comcast?
Peter Angelos: Not yet. Comcast had set a meeting for Friday, April 14th but then they postponed it. My offer to talk to Comcast about a merger of the two regional sports networks stands as long as they put the games on the air while we work out a deal. I have sent out another letter in hopes of getting talks started, and I feel duty-bound to the Nationals fans to continue this process. Our goal is to get the games on as soon as possible in Washington; I feel very strongly that the Nationals fans deserve to see their team on TV. We have deals in place with Cox, RCN, Verizon and other cable outlets, so we will continue to try initiate talks with Comcast in hopes that they will address my merger offer and get the Nationals games on as soon as possible. However, it remains to be seen if they will sit down with us and explore all the options. My first priority is to get the Nationals on TV in Washington. But, as I said, it remains to be seen if Comcast is willing to work with us in the best interest of the Nationals fans.
JW: Major League Baseball has said it expects to announce an owner for the Nationals very soon. Will the Nats having an owner help the MASN cause?
PA: Absolutely. I know that the Nationals fans want an owner as soon as possible, and I look forward to working with the new group very closely. After all, we are partners in MASN and having a new owner could very well help break the deadlock with Comcast. I know that, like me, the new owners are going to want the Nationals games on now, and together we will demand it.
JW: A big issue with Nationals fans has been you owning the team’s TV rights. Could you please explain why this is a good deal for the Nationals?
PA: First of all, MASN is contractually bound to pay the Nationals market value for their rights. Last season, that was $20 million. This season, it will again be $20 million, and that is with very limited cable distribution. In 2007, the figure moves up to $25 million and then each year there will be a raise in the rights fees to the team, and that is guaranteed money.
But the most important part of the deal is the equity in MASN over the long term. In a few years that equity stake in the network will be worth far more than any rights fee that a Comcast or a Fox SportsNet could pay them. So they will in time have a 33 percent stake in MASN without one penny of investment. We pay all production costs, overhead, the staffing and program fees. The new Nationals get all the benefits without the risk.
Furthermore, starting in 2007, baseball fans throughout the Mid-Atlantic area will be able to watch both the Orioles and Nationals games. No matter if you are in Baltimore or Washington, you will be able to see both teams on an equal basis. There will be plenty of cross promotion on the network and the Nationals and the Orioles will be true partners.
(It should be noted that when MLB put the Nationals up for sale, each of the nine ownership groups were offered the chance to buy the Nationals with or without MASN. For the record, all nine bidders chose to bid for both the team and the stake in MASN. — JW)
JW: Do you plan to work with the new ownership beyond the MASN deal?
PA: Yes. I look forward to working with the new Washington owners to establish a true partnership, one that will allow the Nationals to sell tickets and gear in Baltimore and at Camden Yards. Meanwhile, fans in Washington will be able purchase Orioles tickets and gear at RFK and the new building in 2008. We are in the American League, and they of course are in the National League, so fans will be able to see the best of both leagues.
My goal, and I am sure it is the same for the Washington owners, is to have two very successful franchises that work together on a number of projects while being friendly rivals on the field.
JW: Switching to the Orioles, do you feel that the fans in Baltimore understand your passion for the team?
PA: Well, when I bought the team, as many will recall, it was in bankruptcy court in New York and all the bidders were from out town. There was some talk of the team being bought and moved out of Baltimore. So I felt that I was in a position with my 19 partners to buy the team and make sure that the Orioles stayed in Baltimore. That said, I really did not feel that the team was going to be moved. The city had just built a beautiful new ballpark and I just felt that the team would be far better off in local hands. I always feel that if you can find a local owner for any sports team, not just baseball, it is always best for the city. Some have been kind enough to say that it was good for Baltimore that I bought the team because I am a local guy and I know what the O’s mean to this city. I know that you get the good with the bad and I understand that but we have always tried to reach out to the community and give back to the city of Baltimore. It is my hometown and to be able to help in civic and community matters has always been one of greatest joys.
But in some ways I have been a poor owner and I hope the new owners in Washington read this. Despite what some people think I am not as involved in the team as I should be, in large part because I have not raised ticket prices to meet the growing costs of doing business in baseball today.
So the moral of the story is you must become heavily involved keeping revenue streams high which is why we have MASN so that you can be competitive in the free agent market.
Both the Orioles and the Nationals face stiff competition from the teams in our division that can always outspend us. It does not mean we can’t win and be competitive. But both teams have to be players in the free-agent market and that comes with increased revenue.
JW: So do you think that MLB needs a salary cap like the other major sports?
PA: In the long run I think that baseball must have a salary cap. It is in the best interest of the players, the owners and most of all, the fans. You can’t expect to pay higher salaries to players without the increased revenue and that means higher ticket prices, the cost of a hot dog and a beer will price a night at the park out the range of most families and we can’t do that. So yes, I do think that a cap in MLB is something we really have to look at for the long-term success of the league and the competitiveness of the teams.
JW: One last question. What is your proudest moment as the Orioles’ owner?
PA: In 1997, we came very, very close to making it to the World Series but came up short. That was a great ride for our fans and for me. Since that time things have been disappointing. I have lived my life with the ethic that if you work hard and do your best that you can and will be successful. While that has served me well personally, for some reason it has not translated when it comes to baseball. I don’t blame the players or the staff or the free agents that we tried to get but for some reason didn’t get. We all do our best every day, we try hard and we will work to improve in every aspect of the franchise.
I enjoy being part of the Orioles history, talking to the great men who have been part of this organization and the many great people throughout baseball that I have had a chance to get to know and they are now friends.
But I really believe that the success of the Orioles now and in the future will come from that core ethic of hard work and doing our best each and every day.
Fans can like Angelos or hate him but they can’t question his passion for his team and the city of Baltimore or for his straightforward answers to my questions. In the end, Angelos may be many things. But afraid to speak his mind is certainly not one of them.
Jim Williams is a seven-time Emmy Award-winning TV producer, director and writer.

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