After all the wrangling and waiting, the Nationals were sold to the Lerner family and questions shifted from ‘Who is the owner?’ to ‘Where are we headed?’
The man to answer that is Stan Kasten, the new team president who will take over in the next month.
Kasten served as president of three Atlanta franchises — the Braves, Hawks and Thrashers — at the same time. MLB and NBA executives speak of him as an innovator and laud his ability to build a solid organization.
I spoke to Kasten about the Nationals ownership in the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, other broadcast-related issues and his vision of the Nats-Orioles rivalry going forward.
Jim Williams: Have you, the Lerners, representatives of Major League Baseball and Peter Angelos spoken about the getting the Nationals games on television?
Stan Kasten: Getting the games on TV is the most important thing we have to do on our list of short-term goals. We have started a positive dialogue with all the key players about getting MASN on cable not just for a short-term basis but for the long term all over the Mid-Atlantic region. I have spoken to Peter [Angelos], representatives of Major League Baseball and Comcast. I really feel that we have a common goal here and I understand that local government officials are willing to help but it is my hope that MASN, MLB and Comcast can get this long-term deal done without any outside help. The end result is that we will get the games on so that people can watch Nationals games for years to come. We will be as creative as we need to be to get things done as fast as we can. So while I can’t say when we will get the games on TV, I can say it will happen and all parties will be happy with the long-term deal. Rest assured we are working hard and talks are ongoing to get our games on TV as soon as possible.
JW: Let’s say all goes well and MASN gets on Comcast. Is the MASN deal a good one for the Nationals?
SK: We knew the deal when we bought the franchise; we are getting a handsome local rights fee from MASN with a great equity stake in the network that we believe has a very nice future. So yes, we think that it is a good deal for the Nationals and we look forward to a long and beneficial partnership with Peter and the Orioles.
JW: Speaking of your partnership with Peter Angelos, last month when I spoke to him he told me he looked forward to being partners off the field and friendly rivals on the field. He spoke of even marketing Nationals tickets in Baltimore and that you would have Orioles tickets in Washington. Do you see the Nationals working closely with Baltimore?
SK: I have not spoken to Peter about that as of yet. But I would welcome any chance to work as partners to expand the Nationals base and to assist the Orioles wherever possible.
JW: Let’s turn to radio now. Do you expect to expand the coverage of the Nationals the way you did the Braves with a larger radio network?
SK: Next to TV, radio is a big part of marketing our team. While I have not had a chance to go over the contract, we are happy with WTWP at this point. I have been offered a couple of radio shows and our goal is make sure that our fans get a chance to talk baseball as well as give us much needed feedback. More baseball shows will begin to hit the air and our goal is to have year-round Nationals programming. As for a network, again we want to reach fans all over the Mid-Atlantic and so, yes, building a radio network is something we want to do. That will take some time, but we will have a regional radio network for our fans.
JW: When you spoke at the [new ownership group’s introductory] press conference you talked about you and the Lerner’s vision to make the Nationals an international team. How do you see that happening?
SK: Every city has a special thing going for it. Washington is a world capital and we have access to press and news operations from every part of the globe. What player would not like to know that when they play for the Nationals that they will be covered by their home country’s press corps? How about embassies being able to host baseball parties and coming out to the games to follow their favorite players? We have become a global game and being a media capital is certainly an advantage for us.
JW: What about the Battle of the Beltway with the Orioles? What do you envision it to be?
SK: Well, you can’t invent a rivalry. We have to develop it over time and we can do it by working hard with our new fan base. We will do everything that we can to grow the fan base and then our fans will take pride in being Nationals fans. Once that happens, then we can work on the rivalry part.
It is clear Kasten is already at work on the TV deal and MLB is committed to seeing this get done. Without question, the Lerner family and Kasten are committed to making Nationals baseball a great fan experience. You can bet that with Kasten’s background in the media, two big things will happen soon. First, the MASN deal will get done; second, you will hear a lot more Nationals-related baseball programs on the radio in Washington so the fans will have many outlets to talk baseball and connect with the new ownership.
THE STAN KASTEN FILE
» Atlanta Braves president
During Kasten’s tenure as Braves president, the franchise won more games than any other major league team.
» Atlanta Hawks president
Became youngest general manager in NBA history when Ted Turner promoted him in 1979.
He later won consecutive NBA executive of the year awards.
» Atlanta Thrashers presidentJim Williams is a seven-time Emmy Award-winning TV producer, director and writer.