Commissioner Manfred Speaks: Rules Changes, Streaming Games, Stadium Issues, More

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Commissioner Manfred Speaks: Rules Changes, Streaming Games, Stadium Issues, More

Chicago Cubs

At the end of the latest owners meetings, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred spoke about a range of key issues facing the sport at the moment, and it’s worth running them down bullet-style. You can read more about his press conference here, here, and here, among other places.

Some of the highlights …

  • Manfred would not confirm yet that a pitch clock is coming to MLB in 2023, even though the league has the right to implement one with 45 days notice next spring. “We are encouraged by the results in the Minor Leagues,” Manfred said of the pitch clock. “We’ve said for years that the Minor Leagues provide us with a really important opportunity to experiment, learn and make sure we understand how something’s going to work if we deploy it on the field.” The Commissioner says he still wants player feedback before coming to a conclusion, and he doesn’t want to “prejudge” the result. (Butttttt … it’s coming.)
  • As for limiting defensive shifts, which also sure feels like it’s coming, Manfred also did not commit, other than to say he hopes for a recommendation before Spring Training. The Joint Competition Committee is going to discuss both the pitch clock and shift limits next week, so we may hear more then.
  • Automatic balls and strikes (robo umps) sounds further away than 2023, though, because it may not be discussed by the committee just yet. Manfred did talk about a balls and strikes challenge system that he thought was working well (human umpire, but you can quickly challenge using the ABS system), but again, doesn’t necessarily sound imminent.
  • Manfred’s streaming-related comments were among the most important things he said:

“Local media was a big topic of conversation, it’s not a revenue issue for us right now,” Manfred said. “Our local media revenue continues to be strong. We are concerned about our reach. We think that we have fans who want to watch baseball who don’t feel they have an adequate opportunity to do that. There’s a strong sense among ownership that an undertaking we’re referring to as ‘MLB Media’ should step into the digital space in particular to provide fans with greater and more flexible opportunities to watch games. We believe that Major League Baseball is uniquely situated to be successful in that undertaking.

“Unlike any other entity, we have access to all of the digital rights, and let’s not forget we do have the technology chops to stream 2,430 games, given that we’ve been doing it since 2000. … It’s about giving fans that may be outside the traditional cable bundle adequate opportunity to see our games.”

  • In other words, Manfred is talking about MLB’s desire to figure out a way to make all games available to all fans in all areas, if they desire it, without any blackouts. It’s been rumored for a while now, but because of the nature of these local TV deals – many of which include LOCAL streaming rights going to the RSN – it’s going to take significant time and creativity (and unbelievably complex revenue sharing) to sort out.
  • (Meanwhile, a number of teams/RSNs are exploring ideas to offer in-market streaming services completely outside the cable bundle. For example, the Cubs and Marquee (it’d be a streaming app like Netflix with a monthly price.)
  • Right now, the league is still focused on finding a stadium solution for the Rays in the Tampa Bay area, but with the current lease expiring in 2027, we’re getting close to the point where a new stadium plan has to be formally accepted. “Obviously, the end of that lease is a hard deadline, but you need to take into account that stadiums take a little bit of time to build, right?” Manfred said. “So we are getting to the point where wherever it is in the region that has an interest in having 162 baseball games, they need to get to it, get with the club – I know the Rays are anxious to get something done – and see if a deal can be made.”
  • Of course, the situation in Oakland is even more urgent, because the A’s lease runs only through 2024. That’s why there’s been a lot more serious exploration of Las Vegas as a possible site move. “There is really significant activity in Oakland. The political process has moved along significantly,” Manfred said. “I met with Mayor Schaaf last week. She has done a really good job at moving the process forward in Oakland. But as you all know, California political processes are their own sort of animal. There’s work to do on the Oakland side. I think the A’s prudently have continued to pursue the Las Vegas alternative. We like Las Vegas as a market. Again, it’s in the same category as Tampa. We need a solution in both those markets and the time has come for that solution.”
  • Recall, there will be no serious exploration of expansion and realignment in the sport until those two situations are settled.

Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.