SBD/August 21, 2014/Leagues and Governing BodiesPrint All
MLB Commissioner-elect Rob Manfred will inherit from Bud Selig a "robust game with strong financials, stable attendance, labor peace and competitive balance," but he also "inherits the warning signs of an aging fan base and more dead time within what are the longest games in the history of the sport," according to Tom Verducci of SI.com. In a Q&A yesterday, Manfred promised to keep the pace of game issue “on the front burner,” and explained how the implementation of instant replay this year could "provide a road map for other changes." Below are excerpts from the interview:
Q: Tom Werner, the runner-up to you in the voting, spoke in detail about addressing pace-of-game issues, floating ideas such as a pitch clock and limits to mound visits. What emphasis do you believe is needed on this issue?
Manfred: Pace of game is not a new issue for us. Commissioner Selig has been on this issue for years. All of the (commissioner) candidates talked about pace of game. I think it is going to be a big area of emphasis in order to keep baseball competitive in the entertainment market. I think there are a number of facets to it. There is the pace of what goes on on the field, there’s the absolute time, the length of the game, there’s the amount of action in the game and there’s also what do we do in the ballpark and in our broadcast to fill in the parts of the game that some people find to be a little slower. So I think it’s a multi-faceted issue that’s going to stay on the front burner.
Q: Despite robust revenues in the game, baseball's core audience is aging and fewer children are playing the game. What challenge does that trend present you?
Manfred: It’s crucial that we make sure that amateur baseball is structured in a way that encourages and grows the number of young people that are playing the game because I believe that’s the key to creating fans, which all the research shows. We’re having very positive dialogue with all of the actors on what I think of as the youth side of the market, beginning with Little League all the way up through the Pony League right up to the NCAA. ... Another important way that you build fans is you need to get kids in the ballpark young. The younger they go the more likely it is that they become avid fans.
Q: What are you most looking forward to as commissioner of baseball?
Manfred: I’m very excited about the continued modernization of the game consistent with its historical roots. The instant replay process was probably one of the most exciting change processes that I’ve been involved in. ... That kind of process really excites me and is the sort of process you need to apply to issues like the pace of the game (SI.com, 8/20).
DRIVING THE PACE CAR: Manfred attended the LLWS last night and threw out the first pitch before the Nevada-Pennsylvania game. Prior to the game, he appeared on ESPN and talked about some of the issues facing MLB, including pace of play. He said, "There are several parts to it. You need to think about the overall length of the game, probably a little too long; you need to think about the pace of the game, what's going on; and you need to think about action, offense has changed in our game a lot. ... Then it gets to the entertainment part of the sport. What do you do in the stadium, what do you do on your broadcast at the slower parts of the game?" He added it is "important that the game change." Manfred: "Our experience with instant replay is a wonderful example of how you can modernize the game, do it in a way that's consistent with the history and traditions of the game, and end up with a product that's better. Not only are we getting the calls right, but fans see more in the stadiums. It's good for television and that's the kind of change that you need to drive" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 8/20).
TICK-TOCK, TICK-TOCK: In N.Y., Andy Martino wrote the idea to implement a pitch clock in MLB is “one worth returning to, and advocating for, and beating the drum until it becomes an actual possibility.” Not only would a clock “force pitchers to move the game forward, but it would give fans something to watch, and count, during the dead moments.” The league and the MLBPA “have not yet discussed” the idea, but MLBPA Exec Dir Tony Clark “did not dismiss the concept.” Yankees P Chris Capuano said, “I think spring training would be a good time to experiment with it” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 8/21). USA TODAY's Jorge Ortiz writes MLB's lack of a clock "might be a major reason it is falling behind the times." A combination of factors "have conspired to slow the pace of games and add to their length." Time of games has "steadily increased from an average of 2 hours, 33 minutes in 1981 to 3:02.34 this year through Sunday." There are "growing concerns about the game's ability to attract young fans at a time when they have a wealth of leisure-time options" (USA TODAY, 8/21).
CFL Commissioner Mark Cohon "will not return for a third term when his current contract expires" in April, according to the CP. Now in his eighth season as CFL commissioner, "only Jake Gaudaur (1968-1984) and Sydney Halter (1958-1966) have held the position as long." Cohon said that he "made the announcement now to give the CFL's board of governors time to recruit his replacement." Among Cohon's legacies will be a "lucrative television deal, the return of Ottawa to the CFL, labour peace until 2018, a more stringent drug-testing policy and new stadium projects in Saskatchewan, Winnipeg, Hamilton and Ottawa." However, the "weak position of the Argonauts in Toronto's sports landscape and expansion into Atlantic Canada are unfinished business for Cohon, and a concussion lawsuit against the CFL was filed last month." Cohon said that he will "continue to work on improving the Argos' situation before he departs" (CP, 8/20). In Toronto, Josh Rubin notes while Cohon "had to deal with sometimes-fractious debate among team owners, he insisted there was no particular catalyst for his decision, other than the fact he’s ticked off most of the things on the to-do list he created when he started the job." Former CFL Commissioner John Tory praised Cohon "for boosting the league’s financial stability, and for earning the respect of team owners." Tory said Cohon "probably could have stayed as long as he wanted to." He added that Cohon’s departure "doesn’t reflect badly on the league" (TORONTO STAR, 8/21).
GOING OUT ON TOP: In Winnipeg, Kirk Penton writes Cohon's "list of accomplishments is much longer than his failures -- of that there is no debate." That is the main reason why he "will end up being the longest-serving CFL commissioner" since Gaudaur. Blue Bombers Chair Brock Bulbuck said, "We would all conclude that the league is much stronger today and in a much better position today than it was when Mark first started out in his role." Penton writes Cohon was "no talk and all action during his stint as the commish." He also "interacted with the fans like no commissioner before him, and he won an intense battle with the players during collective bargaining agreement talks earlier this year." The league "has never been more financially stable than it is right now" (WINNIPEG SUN, 8/21). In Calgary, George Johnson asks, "What will the Mark Cohon legacy be?" One can "start with the five-season TSN/RDS TV contract that floods" a reported C$40M into league coffers "each year that helped stabilize floundering franchises." Move on to "new stadiums either already up and running or on the way in Winnipeg, Hamilton and Regina." There also is the recent CBA, "meaning labour peace" through '18. And finally, the "resurrection of an old, valued friend in Ottawa" (CALGARY HERALD, 8/21).
The PGA Tour's FedExCup Playoffs began today at The Barclays in Paramus, N.J., and while "most were skeptical at first at the reasoning behind an end-of-season playoff in golf, it really has made the post-major PGA Tour season interesting," according to Shane Bacon of YAHOO SPORTS. Yahoo Sports' Jay Busbee added, "I think that the playoffs are doing what they're supposed to do: bolster interest in a late-season event for a sport that otherwise would effectively shut down until April in the public eye" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 8/20). In Palm Springs, Larry Bohannan wrote the playoffs are "imperfect for sure, but all playoffs are kind of imperfect." The PGA Tour has "done well in tweaking the playoffs to make the four events as good as possible" (Palm Springs DESERT SUN, 8/19). But ESPN.com's Bob Harig wrote the playoffs "do not create anywhere near the tension, the excitement, as other sports' postseasons." Some of that is "due to the nature of the game," as golf's major championships "are its World Series and Super Bowl, spaced out throughout the season." Nothing will "ever top them for importance." There also is the fact that the golf season "never really ends." But perhaps the "biggest issue with the playoffs is the players themselves and their inability to summon the energy and enthusiasm that would seem natural since the season's finish line is in sight" (ESPN.com, 8/20).
IRISH EYES ARE SMILING: In N.Y., Zach Schonbrun writes golfer Rory McIlroy in winning his last three tournaments, including two majors, has "risen from a promising young contender to the PGA Tour’s new face, with Nike commercials and tour-sponsored Facebook chats." McIlroy said, "My life has changed a little bit. But it's great. I'm in a great position, and I'm trying to embrace it as much as I can." He added, "I see myself as a golfer on the PGA Tour that wants to be the best he can be. I don’t see the need to carry any sort of torch. I just want to win golf tournaments" (N.Y. TIMES, 8/21). Also in N.Y., Mark Cannizzaro writes McIlroy is "now the big dog in the sport." That has "become very apparent" during this "remarkable run he is on." He has "supplanted Tiger Woods as the man until further notice" (N.Y. POST, 8/21). In S.F., Ron Kroichick noted McIlroy last week "bailed on the Frys.com Open," the Tour's season-opening event in October. McIlroy had "given tournament officials an 'emphatic' verbal commitment, twice, and allowed them to promote his appearance in numerous online advertisements." But with his schedule "overflowing, he reneged," which is a "bad look." It is "one thing to change your mind and skip a tournament after privately telling tournament officials you’ll be there." But it is "another thing entirely to approve a promotional campaign and jump ship when a better option emerges." McIlroy later "apologized and promised to play" in the '15 event (SFGATE.com, 8/20).
Former MLBer Curt Schilling yesterday said that he "suffered from oral cancer" from 30 years of using smokeless tobacco. Schilling: “I’ll go to my grave believing that was why I got what I got." In Boston, Maureen Mullen writes the hope is that Schilling’s announcement and the death of Baseball HOFer Tony Gwynn will "serve as a warning to others." While tobacco use has been a "part of the culture of the game for decades," MLB is "trying to change that." Red Sox manager John Farrell said, “Players can be fined if smokeless tobacco is in view of the general public. And there have been some of those warnings or penalties levied on some of our guys. ... But I do know some of our guys do use it" (BOSTON GLOBE, 8/21).
FEELING A DRAFT: CBSSPORTS.com's Chris Peters noted the NHL is "changing the lottery format used to determine the top 14 picks" in the NHL Draft beginning in '15. The changes will make it 5% "less likely that the team that finishes in last place in the NHL will earn the first-overall pick." The rules will "change even further" in '16. But the fact that this is "occurring ahead of one of the most exciting drafts of the last decade is bound to make some GMs of lower-level NHL clubs more than a little perturbed" (CBSSPORTS.com, 8/20).
IT'S BO TIME? In South Carolina, Lou Bezjak wrote moving the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bojangles' Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway back to Labor Day weekend "not only would restore the tradition of the race weekend date but also would put Darlington in more of a spotlight in NASCAR’s schedule." The race would be the "25th on the schedule and the one before the Chase field is determined the following week in Richmond." It also would be "run on Sunday night in primetime on a holiday weekend" (Florence MORNING NEWS, 8/20).
FRESH FACES: SPORTSNET's Todd Lewis wrote instead of "relying on the names of the past to promote as the current stars of IndyCar, it’s time the series looked at others to fill those roles." Any "future growth in IndyCar racing will be tied to the success of its stars." Drivers Ryan Hunter-Reay and Will Power "should be two of the faces of IndyCar." Hunter-Reay is American and won the Indianapolis 500 this year and he is a "former series champion." Those are "all positives that should be exploited." Power often "seems indifferent during interviews; he’s going to have to get over that if the series is to benefit from his success" (SPORTSNET.ca, 8/18).