Commissioner Manfred Speaks: Bat Flips, Social Media, Cord Cutting, More

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Commissioner Manfred Speaks: Bat Flips, Social Media, Cord Cutting, More

Chicago Cubs News

rob manfred

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred took the reins from former commissioner Bud Selig back in January of 2015.

Since then, he’s had to face a myriad of short-term conflicts and problems (like PED abuse, domestic violence cases, player suspensions (and appeals), etc.), all while facing much broader, more impactful long-term decisions.

Among the most notable long-term items, he’s helped bring about new pace-of-play initiatives, worked toward changing the sliding rules, fostered new relationships and rules with our Cuban counterparts, and has met the National League DH debate head on.

But even all of those issues, improvements and changes fall behind in priority to the much larger, ever looming specter haunting MLB: the age problem.

Despite record revenues, TV deals, and league-wide attendance, Major League Baseball is facing a very serious threat. That threat is that young people are losing interest in the sport, even if it appears to be thriving today. MLB’s median TV audience age is 56 years old. And while that may not affect baseball here and now, it is something that needs to be addressed before its core continues to age, and new young fans are not in place to join in the fun.

Pace-of-play initiatives have been implemented to lessen the amount of downtime and shorten the games overall, but even those changes address just one of the many issues MLB is facing in this regard.

However, commissioner Rob Manfred is well aware of this problem, and addresses it (and much more) in an interview with Tim Baysinger, here at Adweek. You can read the entire article for a full rundown of his thoughts and responses, but I’ll hit on some of the highlights, below:

  • When asked to address Bryce Harper’s recent comments that the game is “tired” and needs to allow players to show emotion on the field, Manfred responds diplomatically, but with the right attitude. “The fact that the players who played in the 1960s played the game one way doesn’t necessarily mean that players who are playing in 2016 are going to play it exactly the same way.” He went on to add that institutions evolve over time and that younger stars taking over the game is a great thing for baseball.
  • On Jose Bautista’s now-infamous bat flip last post-season, Manfred stays clear of passing judgment. Instead, he says if that’s how players want to play the game, then they should be able to do so. I’d add, if I were him, that it isn’t entirely about the players, either. Fans are a big ($$$$$) part of this equation and, to a certain extent, need to have their interests represented, as well.
  • To better market young players like Mike Trout, Kris Bryant and Matt Harvey, Manfred and MLB plans to continue utilizing social media. For example, on March 11, the league suspended their rules on electronic devices so that the players could use Snapchat to show fans a little more behind the scenes action. I think this is an ideal way to reach the younger, emerging generation, but, as we know, social media is an ever-changing landscape, and needs to be updated frequently and in anticipation (as opposed to a more reactionary strategy).
  • But let’s give credit where credit’s due, because, according to Manfred, MLB will have a season-long deal with Snapchat to include 15-20 Snapchat stories over the course of the season. From there, baseball will look to further expand into Twitter and Instagram, as well.
  • Manfred believes that cord cutting is a significant phenomenon, but doesn’t seem overly concerned with its impact on the sport just yet. He mentions that baseball is at the forefront of online baseball programming through MLB Advanced media, but fails to address the in-market blackout restrictions. It’s awesome that I can watch the Tampa Bay Rays games from my home in Chicago, but I’m a Cubs fan and I want to watch them without a cable subscription. If you really want to capture the cord cutting constituents (like me), MLB needs to find a way to allow individuals with MLB.TV subscriptions to watch their hometown teams in, you know, their home town. It’s far easier said than done, but that is the size of it.
  • On the recent exhibition game between the Rays and the Cuban National team, Rob Manfred is very encouraged. He sees very strong, lon- term economic opportunities there, but is more focused on the short-term gains like the expected improved immigration process for young players. The changes in the Cuban market will be significant, and have only just begun to develop.

There’s plenty more from the interview, so I encourage you to check it out. Manfred goes on to address potential future rights partners like Google, Facebook and Amazon, as well as in-market streaming goals to be completed by Opening Day.

Baseball is sailing smoothly, as of now, but it is a constantly-swaying ship. Even though there is still plenty of work to do, it appears that Manfred is doing a good job preparing for the upcoming waves.


Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami is a Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @Michael_Cerami.