On the one-year anniversary of his commissionership (def. – the ship upon which a commissioner flies or sails), there are a couple really fantastic interviews with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred that are worth checking out: here at Yahoo, and here at ESPN.
Among the high points (but really, there’s so much more in the interviews that you should check them out), and some thoughts of my own …
- Front and center is Manfred clarifying his recent remarks about the designated hitter in the National League, and whatever momentum there might be for that. And by clarifying, I mean “completely walking back”, since this is what Manfred told ESPN when asked if he could have one do-over in his first year as commissioner: “I would have been way more negative about the prospect of the DH coming to the National League in my press conference last week [laughs]. I didn’t think I was that positive, so obviously I needed to be more negative.” So, yes, he wants you to know – and it’s clear in the Yahoo interview as well – he does not expect the DH to be coming to the NL any time soon, he’s not even sure if the topic is going to be discussed when the next Collective Bargaining Agreement (which expires after 2016) is negotiated, and he implied that the appetite is not there right now for NL owners to want to make a change anyway.
- Manfred admitted that cord-cutting is a concern for MLB, because the cable distribution model has been very successful (read: profitable) for teams, but he does believe that the ability to sell games over-the-top (i.e., MLB.tv) softens concerns. The sport will always be able to reach fans. Of course, then, that brings in the necessary questions about regional blackouts, and Manfred acknowledged that the ridiculous size of the blackout territories (specific examples in Iowa and Las Vegas) are not good for fans.
- Manfred hopes that in-market streaming deals, which were a part of the recent blackout lawsuit settlement, can all be done in time for Opening Day. There’s already a set of deals in place with Fox-affiliated regional sports networks, but others (including the Cubs’ RSN with Comcast) still need to be worked out.
- Although it’s not on the table in the short-term, Manfred does seem to believe further expansion will come eventually for MLB. If the sport can sustain 32 teams, that probably wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, as it would make scheduling much easier, and could clarify the playoff system that is currently not without its issues. (For example, and this is just me offering an idea, MLB could go to a NFL-like model with four divisions in each league, and each division winner makes the playoffs, plus two Wild Card teams. The top two teams get a bye, and the bottom four play three-game series’ to move on, and the bottom two division winners get home field for the entire three-game series. That way, the top teams aren’t sitting too long and getting cold, there is still an incentive to win the division even if you won’t be in the top two, and the initial playoff series isn’t a mere one-game playoff.)
- Pace of play is still on the Commissioner’s mind, even if there were some slight improvements last year. He didn’t mention anything specific, but with the CBA being negotiated, it’s not impossible to imagine continued discussion of some of the issues slowing down the game.
- And speaking of the CBA, that’s obviously the biggest issues in baseball as a whole right now, and it’ll play out in the coming months. The sport has kept labor peace for a very good long while now, and hopefully that will continue. I still don’t have a great grasp of what issues will actually be on the table in this round of negotiations. We know what the big issues are, of course – draft set-up and free agent compensation, service time levels, international draft, in-game rules changes, pace of play, luxury tax level and overall share of revenue, etc. – but I couldn’t tell you for certain as we sit here today which issues are really going to be the contentious and/or game-changing ones. Last time around, in 2011, we got a pretty good sense of what the big issues were going to be in the first half of the year, even if there were some surprises when the full CBA was unveiled at the end of 2011 for use starting in 2012.