SBD/August 18, 2014/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Old Guard MLB Owners Get Their Way In Rob Manfred's Election As Next Commissioner

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Ilitch gave speech supporting Manfred during owner's meetings
The election of MLB COO Rob Manfred as the next commissioner came down to "the old-guard owners in Manfred's camp defending his record, especially as a labor negotiator, against the charges" by White Sox Chair Jerry Reinsdorf "that he was too soft," according to Bill Madden of the N.Y. DAILY NEWS. Tigers Owner Mike Ilitch was "attending his first owners' meeting in years, coming with a speech he had personally written in support of Manfred." Phillies President & CEO Dave Montgomery, who has been "battling jaw cancer and undergoing extensive radiation and chemotherapy," made the trip "to speak up for Manfred." Sources said that it was the "normally reserved" Mets Owner Fred Wilpon who "took the fight to Reinsdorf, challenging him on his criticism of Manfred as a labor negotiator while citing the fact that baseball's present collective bargaining agreement with the union is more favorable to the owners than that of any of the other professional sports." Also "surprising to the Manfred supporters" was Blue Jays President & CEO Paul Beeston "aligning himself with Reinsdorf." One team exec said, "I can't figure out Paul. Has he forgotten? No team in baseball was hit harder by the strike than Toronto and they still haven't recovered" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 8/17). On Long Island, David Lennon noted Manfred's close ties to Commissioner Bud Selig "made him the favorite, but his no-nonsense work ethic probably pushed him over the top." If Selig was "respected for his deal-making ability among the owners, a skill that greatly increased everyone's wealth during the past two decades, then Manfred won over that disparate group by selling them on the fact that he was committed to ensuring that continued" (NEWSDAY, 8/17).

KEEPING THE PEACE: In Miami, Clark Spencer noted Marlins Owner Jeffrey Loria was "firmly in Manfred's camp throughout" the election process. Loria said of Manfred, "I think it's the natural evolution from the great success Bud enjoyed. Bud did wonderful things to advance the game, and Rob will take it to the next step" (MIAMI HERALD, 8/17). In S.F., John Shea noted A's co-Owner Lew Wolff "heaped praise on Manfred after the election, but he didn't initially vote for him." Wolff said, "I liked [Red Sox Chair Tom Werner] a lot because of his television and media knowledge. I liked the idea of an owner being considered." But he said of Manfred, "I think Rob will be his own man. He's very smart." Wolff added, "I think Rob understands everything that's going on out here. ... Rob totally understands the situation. I don't know if this committee really did or didn't, but Rob is a hard study" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 8/17). Baseball writer Peter Gammons noted Manfred is "not going to have the hammer Selig held over owners." That rationale is "why, as the storm fronts collide" between now and '16, Manfred needs Cardinals Chair & CEO Bill DeWitt Jr. "to hold together the center." DeWitt now "may be the most important owner," and Manfred needs DeWitt, Montgomery and "experienced, balanced owners." But Manfred "cannot succeed until and unless the 30 ownership groups understand that they are 30 franchises of one business, and the greatest profitability comes from every one of them pulling in a like direction" (GAMMONSDAILY.com, 8/17). 

CHANGE ON THE HORIZON? In N.Y., Tyler Kepner notes Manfred was "convincing to the owners about his plans to modernize the games," which includes "improving the pace of play." Giants President & CEO Larry Baer said, “The job is much more complicated. You’re dealing with a 20- or 25-channel world, maybe, in 1992. Now you’re in a 500-channel universe and the Internet. You’re communicating with people that are walking down the street consuming baseball. And that’s a good thing; that’s positive. But we have to figure out ways to make it relevant to that 12-year-old.” Brewers Owner Mark Attanasio said that a "brisker pace of games, better use of social media and more participation on the field would be crucial to engaging younger fans." He added, “We’re faced with an aging demographic, and there’s any number of metrics which point to that” (N.Y. TIMES, 8/17). ESPN's J.A. Adande said Manfred's priority "should be social media ... (because) that's the way they capture this younger audience." ESPN's Israel Gutierrez added that Manfred "needs to get the youth movement going in baseball, but not necessarily through social media. It's got to be through the game itself" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 8/15). In Chicago, Patrick Mooney noted Manfred "has to worry about the pace of the game in a short-attention-span world." There are "too many options competing for your attention, from Netflix to nonstop NFL coverage to on-demand entertainment" (CSNCHICAGO.com, 8/16). In Denver, Patrick Saunders noted the average MLB game "now takes 3 hours, 3 minutes to play," which is "up 30 minutes from 1981." Manfred has "got to fix that" (DENVER POST, 8/17). SNY's Adam Schein said while Manfred's election was "a vote for the status quo," he is "curious to see how he handles that first big moment in being the commissioner" ("Loud Mouths," SNY, 8/15).

CHALLENGE ACCEPTED: In Buffalo, Mike Harrington lists some of Manfred's "biggest challenges going forward," including pace of play, the draft, ticket sales and TV. In regards to the draft, there are "all kinds of rules that need re-examination." Huge sums of money "going to international players, especially those from places like Cuba, continue to be a problem." Meanwhile, attendance is "stale or down in several places and is a serious problem in cities" like Tampa and Cleveland. While national TV contracts are signed through '21, the ratings decline "has to stop." And enough of Fox "jamming Yankees-Red Sox down everyone's throats 10 years after the rivalry's halcyon days." In order for MLB to "engage younger audience" members it "must elevate its stars" (BUFFALO NEWS, 8/17).

WERNER STILL HAS HIGH HOPES FOR MLB: In Boston, Nick Cafardo noted Werner, the runner-up to Manfred, gave fans "a glimpse of his message, which he hopes will be adopted by Manfred, stressing pace of play, drawing young people to baseball, diversity, and bringing Major League Baseball into a new media age where young people can access games in ways other than television." Werner said, "Too many people are leaving games in the sixth and seventh innings because they can't watch 3 1/2 hour games, so they're leaving the game at the point where the game should be getting exciting." He added, "I respect tradition, but I don't revere it." Werner suggested "a pitch clock," and said that it should "at least be tested at the minor league level to gauge its effectiveness in improving pace of play." Werner also is "for limiting the number of times a batter can step out of the box." In addition, he would like to "add some show business to the game." Werner made a "pitch to pursue deals that would advance the game in the era of hand-held devices." He said that he "genuinely wanted to be commissioner." Werner now "hopes for a chance to have his ideas heard, discussed, and perhaps implemented" (BOSTON GLOBE, 8/17). Red Sox Senior Advisor Dr. Charles Steinberg said of Werner's qualifications for the job of commissioner, "We who work with him and owners who have known him since 1990, know about qualities that are hard to put in the sound bites, but there is wisdom, compassion, judgement. ... It's not this glitzy sound-bite commissioner, but one whose love of baseball and blend of community consciousness made him a very worth one" (BOSTON HERALD, 8/17).

CLOSE CALL: In Milwaukee, Tom Haudricourt noted Attanasio was interviewed for the job of commissioner in N.Y. by Korn/Ferry. Attanasio said of the interview, "I can say it was quite systematic and detailed." He "wouldn't say whether he would have accepted a nomination as a finalist if so chosen." But it is "safe to say he really enjoys owning the Brewers and being involved in baseball that way, and puts the stability of the franchise above personal interests" (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 8/17).
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