Alan H. “Bud” Selig retired as commissioner of Major League Baseball in January. That statement can mean something different to so many people. For some, this means the stepping down of the man who oversaw baseball’s resurgence from what could have been a crippling 1994 strike to the second largest sports league in America based solely on revenue (approximately $9 billion in revenue in 2014). For others, it means saying goodbye to a man who, many believe, botched many issues from rampant steroid use to Pete Rose’s continued exile from the sport; both of which many point out the irony/hypocrisy of Selig on. However you want to look at it, Selig is no longer the head man; that title now belongs to Robert D. Manfred, Jr. Manfred took over as commissioner on January 25th of this year and since has made changes that impact pace of play, start times at the end of the season, and is considering even looking into an international draft. The end goals all seem point to what the modern sports fan wants: quicker games, buzz worthy television viewing when it matters, and competitive balance for teams that can’t keep up with the deep pockets of markets like New York, Boston, and Los Angeles. So far I like what I see from the new commissioner but three challenges
1. Reinstating Pete Rose
I don’t condone Pete Rose for anything he’s done in the past. This situation, however, is tricky because of scandals and policy from the past; most notably those policies imposed by Kennessaw Mountain Landis during his time as commissioner. Reinstating Pete Rose, on the surface, seems like a no brainer. He’s the all-time leader in hits, has admitted his faults, and if sentiment plays as large a role as statistics then it really isn’t a question that takes two thoughts.
Many have brought up the comparison of PED’s and gambling; claiming that one (PED’s) is much worse than anything Pete Rose did (Gambling) during his time as player/manager of the Reds. That argument only holds so long as baseball continues to treat PED violations on a year-to-year or multi-game suspension basis. Treat them the same as the punishment for gambling and Rose’s reinstatement might not be as big of a discussion because the crux of the issue is whether it manipulates performance or outcome on the field of play. Reinstating Rose would also mean reviewing the cases of players such as “Shoeless Joe” Jackson and those involved in the “Black Sox” Scandal (among others) and I’m not too sure that is something Manfred wants to invest resources into at this time. This doesn’t make me anti-Pete Rose, but looking at everything involved in his situation policy is policy, and the best thing for Manfred to do is come up with a policy just as stern a policy for PED’s.
2. The Television Deal Bubble
Major League Baseball has done an incredible job leading the way in advanced media in professional sports. MLB’s app for live streaming has seen subscription growth each of the last four years (2.2 million in 2011 to 3.5 million in 2014), and did you know that it’s baseball’s advanced media does a ton of the back-end streaming for events such as The Masters, the NCAA Tournament, and even for ESPN? (seriously, if you don’t know who CEO of MLB Advanced Media, Bob Bowman, is you should start here and read further about him).
But with all the advances they are taking online the one they need to avoid (or prepare for) is the “cable bubble” that will eventually burst. Teams with new/existing, lucrative television deals will be involved in the battle of online streaming and selective channel services versus cable providers. Manfred will need to lean on the expertise, creativity, and innovative team that brought baseball to the forefront of digital media and made them the number one streamer of games in the world. If that means capitalizing on local markets (which baseball dominates) by co-partnering with cable companies to make sure their investment remains fruitful then so be it.
At any rate the burst is coming, but some headway within ballparks are already being made to keep fans connected; which is another way baseball is leading the pack among the three major sports (case in point: Atlanta’s new ballpark deal with Comcast Xfinity to become the most connected venue in the country is just one example of baseball’s desire to be first in stadium technology).
3. Make The Urban Youth Academy More Of A Priority
I’ve played baseball my whole life and understand the beauty of the game. I can’t say that a lot of people (particularly African-Americans) would say the same. In the past year I’ve had the opportunity to attend the Diversity Summit held by Major League Baseball as well as speak with many executives and scouts who work at Urban Youth Academy across the country. While the program does well, it could be much greater.
The greater it is, the greater the benefit to the game and league.
With the recent opening of the Urban Youth Academy in Cincinnati and the success of the one here in Southern California the growth in the African-American and Latino-American community these programs could provide hasn’t come close to its potential. I would suggest Manfred look at investing more resources into the programs and opening more of them across the country. The academy in Compton has placed over 500 players in college and university programs and over 100 in the majors since it started in 2006. Imagine facilities in Atlanta, New York, Chicago, and Miami? Imagine the impact those facilities in those places would have on the game and the talent it could produce while growing the game.
Manfred’s plate is full, but tackling these issues would be a step in the right direction in growing the game for the better.