After 15 years, Orioles and Nationals fans are still getting shafted by MASN
The start of the 2020 season marks the 15th anniversary of the Nationals’ move to Washington DC from Montreal. It also marks the 15th anniversary of a launch that has been fraught with many more issues than the return of pro baseball to the nation’s capital – the launch of MASN, the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network.
MASN serves as the TV home for both the Orioles and Nationals, and the issues plaguing the network have not gone away over the last 15 years. The two teams have been involved in a dispute regarding MASN since 2014 regarding rights fees owed to the Nationals. That battle appears to be coming to an end, but the final judgment could end up destroying the network, thanks to the exorbitant amount of rights fees that MASN would owe to the Nationals.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
The good news for Orioles and Nationals fans is that MASN airs every game not locked into an exclusive national window for each team, largely because there isn’t any other headline exclusive programming for MASN to air. Baltimore doesn’t have either an NHL or NBA team, and the rights for Washington’s NBA and NHL teams belong to NBC Sports Washington. Sure, MASN airs plenty of college sports content, but we’re not talking about premium, exclusive content here – many of the games it airs are on tape delay or are licensed from various syndicated content providers.
The bad news is that while MASN airs all of the teams’ games, it’s actually difficult to watch them if you’re not sitting in front of a TV. MASN doesn’t have a streaming app, like the NBC Sports and Fox Sports (now owned by Sinclair) RSNs across the country. MASN also doesn’t have any way to stream live content on their website, which really seems like the bare minimum for any network in 2020. MLB’s local blackout restrictions make in-market streaming (without a VPN) through MLB.tv impossible for Orioles and Nationals fans, meaning that if you want to watch either of your teams live in the local viewing area, you need to do it on your TV and not a laptop, tablet, or phone.
Furthermore, if you’re a cord cutter, you’re pretty much screwed. MASN isn’t available on any over the top streaming service, including (but not limited to) AT&T NOW (formerly DirecTV Now), fuboTV, Hulu Live, Sling TV, or YouTube TV. MASN’s complete and utter inability to adjust to the TV landscape in 2020 is inconveniencing viewers, putting the network itself miles behind the competition, and leaving it clinging to the traditional cable model as its best hope of survival. Given the variety of carriage disputes MASN has dealt with over the years, and the carriage battles major providers are currently waging with RSNs across the country, that doesn’t seem like the best strategy going forward.
As for how MASN can become more viewer friendly, the options are relatively simple. The first, and perhaps easiest, thing MASN can do is allow users to stream games live through their website with an authenticated login. If you have MASN on your cable package, you should be able to watch MASN on your computer. This isn’t a difficult concept or idea, yet MASN is still falling short of providing even that convenience to fans. MASN also needs an app for in-market streaming, but hey, let’s learn to walk before we run.
MASN should also look into cutting at least one carriage deal with an over the top provider so fans who want to cut the cord won’t be left out in the cold. Cutting deals with all of the top services (especially the Dish-owned Sling, which dropped the Sinclair-owned Fox RSNs over the summer and still hasn’t agreed to a new deal) doesn’t seem too likely, but if MASN can get one deal done, it at least gives fans the ability to step away from cable without completely stepping away from watching the region’s two MLB teams.
Finally, I have an idea that that is probably based more in theory than reality – why shouldn’t NBC Sports Washington look into buying MASN and combining the networks into a true behemoth in the region? With NBC’s infrastructure behind the Orioles and Nationals, in-market, in-app streaming would no longer be an issue. Cord cutters would also benefit, since NBC Sports Washington is frequently included on over the top providers. Content outside of the summer wouldn’t be a problem, since both the Wizards and Capitals air on NBC Sports Washington. The addition of those two teams would mean that the Orioles and Nationals would have much less concern about cable providers dropping their network when the next round of rights negotiations come around.
Sure, MASN and its two cornerstone properties and owners coming under the thumb of NBC Sports Washington would result in smaller pieces of the pie for those two teams, but the pie itself would be larger, and with other entities shouldering more of the risk, there’s less chance of the pie falling on the floor, being ruined, and depriving everyone of a piece.
No matter what ends up happening in 2020 and beyond, one thing is for sure – MASN needs to do something to improve its product because it’s being lapped by the rest of baseball right now. Sure, that’s not a huge issue when the Orioles are one of the worst teams in baseball, but the Nationals are the reigning World Championship, and Baltimore’s strong farm system promises sunnier days in the future. But if fans can’t watch unless they’re planted in front of a TV with a cable subscription, how many people are going to leave both teams in the dust?
Joe Lucia has been covering sports media since 2011, and is a fan of the Ravens, Braves, and Manchester City. He was born and raised in Harrisburg, PA, but now makes his home in southern California with his wife.