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MASN, Comcast Reach Nationals Deal

With a little push from the FCC--make that a good-sized one--the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network and Comcast have reached an agreement on carriage of the Washington Nationals baseball games.

The sports network will be added to Comcast's expanded basic package on Washington-area systems beginning in September.Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

There had been a 10-day FCC deadline for programmers filing access complaints at the FCC against Comcast or Time Warner to opt for outside arbitration, an FCC condition on its approval of their purchase of Adelphia.

The FCC had also told MASN that it would alternately refer its complaint to an FCC judge. In either case, the FCC wanted to resolve the matter quickly under pressure from Congressmen and their constitutents,hundreds of thousand of which couldn't get most Nationals games, prompting congressional hearings on the issue.

Instead, Friday, which had been the deadline for picking arbitration, Comcast and MASN agreed to a deal that will put the games on Comcast systems over the next two years.

"We’ve always wanted to bring the Nationals to [our] customers," said Comcast Executive VP David Cohen, "and want to thank everyone on Comcast and MASN’s team who have worked to bring baseball to our DC area customers.”

“This is great news for sports fans throughout the mid-Atlantic region,” said Baltimore Orioles and MASN part owner Peter Angelos.

The carriage fight was related to Comcast's contract to carry the Orioles, which expires soon, and Angelos' plans to put those games on regional sports network MASN. Comcast argued that it had right of first refusal on those games, while Angelos said MASN was not a third party, but that he was not putting the Orioles games out for bid after the Comcast contract expired but, instead, keeping them in house.

Comcast, in turn, had chosen not to strike a deal to carry MASN games. Angelos had the rights to the nearby Nationals under an unusual arrangement that got his OK to move the Montreal Expos to Washington, where he feared they would siphon fans from his team, only 35 miles or so away.

In approving Comcast and Time Warner's purchase of bankrupt Adelphia, the FCC conditioned the deal on regional sports network program access protections, saying that the networks and their hometown games were must-have programming and that Comcast and Time Warner's market power provided opportunity to lmit that access. There was even a condition related directly to trying to resolve the MASN complaint.

"As a Washington Nationals fan, I am delighted that MASN and Comcast have reached an agreement,"said new FCC commissioner Roert McDowell, who pushed for the MASN-related condition. "I am further pleased that the parties have resolved this dispute in a private-sector setting.  With this deal, everyone wins: Comcast, MASN, the Nationals and, most importantly, Nationals fans."

"I am pleased Comcast and TCR have reached an agreement, said Chairman Kevin Martin. "This was the intended  result of the Commissions' actions in recent weeks."