SBJ/June 12-18, 2017/Events and Attractions

MLB looks at changes, including new date, to spice up draft

This year's draft, as in 2016, will be at MLB Network in Secaucus, NJ.
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Major League Baseball is considering major shifts for its annual draft held each June, such as a new location or date, in an effort to elevate the important but lightly regarded event.

MLB, along with key entities and partners such as the MLB Network, Minor League Baseball and the NCAA, are looking at several possible measures such as moving the event out of MLB Network studios in Secaucus, N.J., where it’s been since 2009, and adjusting the league schedule so no games are played during the draft. A more radical step under discussion would shift the draft to July near the All-Star Game.

“We’re trying to figure out what the best period is for the draft for all parties involved, balancing all the interests between marketing, player development, and so forth, and really providing the right showcase for the young talent entering our game,” said Peter Woodfork, MLB senior vice president of baseball operations. “We have several departments — baseball operations, special events, marketing — all looking actively at what we can do.”

MLB Players Association Executive Director Tony Clark said the union has not had substantive discussions about the draft with the league, but any changes must be collectively bargained.

“If MLB has ideas for making the draft a better event, we look forward to having that discussion,” Clark said.
Expanding the fan appeal and prominence of the MLB draft has been a priority of MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred since he took office in early 2015. But despite the increasing importance of player development and young talent to MLB clubs, the event faces several obstacles not present in the far more popular NFL and NBA drafts.

Among those challenges: nearly all MLB draft picks require several years in the minor leagues before reaching the majors; the draft occurs in-season and in the same broadcast window as regular-season MLB games; college baseball has a far lower profile compared to college football and basketball; and many college players are still competing for their teams while the MLB draft happens.

This year’s MLB draft starts tonight in Secaucus. Woodfork said the 2018 event will likely stay in the early June time slot with schedule adjustments to avoid competing MLB games. But bigger changes are possible for 2019 and beyond, and many executives around the game are enthused about what a shift to the All-Star Game break could do for the draft.

“Baseball’s All-Star event is still the best of all the sports, right? Better than the Pro Bowl, better than the NBA All-Star Game. … If you can bring the draft to something that already has eyeballs and blow it out on a bigger stage, it could be something compelling,” said Brodie Van Wagenen, CAA Baseball co-head.

In advance of those potential moves, efforts are already underway to drive more fan interest toward the MLB draft. The Minnesota Twins, which hold the top overall pick this year, will hold their first draft party at Target Field today and will show both in-house and MLB Network draft coverage on its ballpark video board.

“Picking first overall isn’t something you want to do very often because that means you had a bad season last year,” said Twins President Dave St. Peter. “But we do want to take advantage of this both with the team and with the fans, and are putting a real focus against this.”

MLB Network itself and MLB.com have expanded their efforts profiling more top prospects through features on TV and online destinations such as MLBPipeline.com. The network plans to have four draft prospects on-site tonight for the draft broadcast, including California high school player Hunter Greene, who is expected to be one of the top selections and was recently featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated. MLB Network and MLB.com coverage will also be supplemented by content on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat.

“We’re now trying to help viewers learn about the top prospects earlier and earlier before the draft, and the preparation we do for the draft is as comprehensive as we do for anything we have all year,” said Rob McGlarry, MLB Network president.

Even getting to this level is a significant step forward for an event that wasn’t even televised live until 2007.

The MLB draft last year drew an average of 279,000 viewers while the NBA draft averaged just under 3 million viewers last year, and the first round of the NFL draft in April drew 6.7 million on ESPN and 2.5 million on the NFL Network. The NFL, additionally, has further elevated its draft in recent years by moving out of its traditional New York locale to other cities such as Chicago and Philadelphia and building large fan festivals around the event.

“You don’t start with a dime and expect to be where the National Football League is in two years. You’ve got to build it up,” said Gil Brandt, former Dallas Cowboys vice president of player personnel and a key figure in the rise of the NFL draft. “There is a good deal of interest in baseball. But you don’t ever hear about [top prospects]. … You’ve got to create an identity of who they are.”


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