Manfred Promises To Keep Pace Of Play A Priority, Attract Younger Audience To MLB
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).