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MASN Expands Sports Lineup

The Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN) expanded its programming lineup July 31 from an average three and a half hours a day, when Washington Nationals games were on, to 24 hours or programming.

The channel will repeat the Nationals games, and plans to carry Orioles games beginning in 2007, says a spokesman. It will also carry "classics" programming with best-of footage from the old Washington Senators and the National's year-and-a-half's worth of history (they used to be the Montreal Expos).

But also on tap, says MASN, are college sports, pre- and post-game Nationals shows, magazine shows, spring training and draft coverage, and lots more.

There will also be in-game mikes on players and coaches, only possible with a team-owned RSN, says spokesman Todd Webster.

And in a little turn-about, cable systems in Northern Virginia with access to MASN--Cox prominently in Fairfax and Fredericksburg--will get Baltimore Ravens pre-season games, plus coaches shows and more. The reason MASN, which is partly owned by Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, has rights to the Washington Nationals games was that that was part of the deal that got him to sign-off on the move of the team from Montreal to Washington, where he feared it could siphon fans from his team.

The network's expansion has been in the works for several months and could help MASN in its carriage fight with Comcast, which had cited MASN's part-time status as one of the reasons the cable operator does not carry the sports network.

The two have been in a very public fight, with Comcast not carrying MASN, citing price and part-time status, while MASN says Comcast was trying to force it to give up an ownership interest. MASN owner TCR Sports Broadcasting Holding plans to put the Orioles on MASN when its contract with Comcast expires at the end of this year. Comcast has asserted a right of first refusal on the new contract for the game, but TCR says MASN is not a third party and that it is simply retaining the rights rather than shopping them.

The FCC has said that regional sports networks are must-have programming and put program access conditions on the Comcast/Time Warner/Adelphia deal that apply only to RSN's.
Under pressure from Congress, the FCC is trying to resolve the Comcast/MASN dispute so that legislators and their constituents with Comcast cable service can have access to the home town National's games.
It has given MASN the option of pursuing arbitration on its program access complaint against Comcast, one of the Adelphia conditions, or it could opt for the FCC to send the issue to one of its administrative law judges to rule on, with the FCC having the ultimate call after reviewing that recommendation.
Webster said MASN is still deciding which way to go.