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Volume 24 No. 236

Leagues and Governing Bodies

Manfred's original proposal includes a 20-second pitch clock and reduced mound visits
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

The MLBPA is "expected to reject" MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred’s revised proposal on new rules to improve pace of play, a move that would "set the stage for Manfred to unilaterally implement his original proposal," according to sources cited by Ken Rosenthal of THE ATHLETIC. That would include a 20-second pitch clock and reduced mound visits. Sources said that the players are "not opposed to pace-of-play improvements and will act professionally if Manfred orders new rules." In addition to "objections to the pitch clock, players have expressed a variety of other concerns, including the dead time resulting from instant replay and innings break." Some players also "worry that speeding up the game will increase the risk of injury." Manfred prefers a "negotiated settlement" with the players, but he "repeatedly has made clear that he will introduce a pitch clock" for the '18 season with out without the players' consent. Sources said that the owners are "strongly in favor of the changes, and they would not allow Manfred to relent even if he became reluctant to proceed without the union’s cooperation." Sources said that some players, "believing the new rules will be unpopular with fans and damaging to the game, want to absolve themselves of responsibility while putting the onus on Manfred to deal with any public fallout and unintended consequences" (THEATHLETIC.com, 1/18). In N.Y., Ken Davidoff notes MLBPA Exec Dir Tony Clark and Manfred "plan to meet next week and discuss the matter some more." The new rules would "ideally be put in place by early February, giving teams and umpires lead time to prepare for them in exhibition games" (N.Y. POST, 1/19).

DETAILS OF THE CHANGES: YAHOO SPORTS' Jeff Passan noted that MLB "intends to use a 20-second pitch clock with the bases empty and runners on." The pitch clock in the proposed agreement "would have been 18 seconds with the bases empty and would have been shut off with runners on." The clock will "start when a pitcher has the ball on the mound and stop when the pitcher begins his windup or comes set." If the pitcher "steps off the rubber, the clock resets." Batters "must be in the box five seconds after the clock starts." Pitchers will get one warning per game, and a second violation would "result in an automatic ball." The penalty "will begin on Opening Day, as opposed to the rejected proposal, which would’ve delayed the implementation until May 1." The changes to mound visits are "particularly acute." Any coach, manager or player going to the mound or a pitcher leaving "to confer with a player will count "as a visit." Pitchers must leave the game on a second visit. There also will be a "30-second between-batters timer implemented" starting Opening Day. Each hitter will "receive one warning per game." Should the union "officially reject the plan," MLB intends in '19 to "make inning breaks 2 minutes, 20 seconds for local games and 2:40 for national games," and to institute a "six-pitch maximum for warm-ups that must be finished with 35 seconds left on the between-innings clock." A source said that the amount of "commercial time the league sells would remain 90 seconds" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 1/18).

HOW IT CAME TO BE: THE ATHLETIC's Rosenthal noted MLB's decision came after the MLBPA "failed in an informal survey to reach consensus" on the pace-of-play proposal. Sources said that the union's decision to reject the proposal "blindsided" Manfred, Chief Legal Officer Dan Halem and others in MLB who "believed as recently as two weeks ago they were close to an agreement that would have included a pitch clock and ball-strike penalties for those who exceeded prescribed time limits." The tension between the players and owners "seemingly is growing daily, and the players’ willingness to allow Manfred to unilaterally implement his original pace-of-play proposal is a stunning reflection of their indignation." The players could have "cut a better deal, still can cut a better deal, with Manfred and Clark scheduled to meet next week." Instead, they are "drawing a line in the sand." Many "oppose a pitch clock and the potentially game-changing penalties attached to it." However, sources said that the players also are "upset by the slow-moving free agent market, as well as the clubs’ aggressive conduct last Friday, the deadline for exchanging salary-arbitration figures." Sources said that the players still "deem the proposal unacceptable -- so unacceptable, the gap will be difficult to bridge even when Manfred and Clark meet." MLB considers the union’s position "nothing short of baffling" (THEATHLETIC.com, 1/18). 

TRUST ME
: Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who is member of MLB's competition committee, said that the pace-of-play adjustments "should be good for the game." Appearing on WJZ-FM, Showalter said, "It’s a good move. It’s not going to affect the pitchers. It’s going to affect the hitters, and if we can take the game from three-plus (hours) to under three, it’s a better game. Believe me, the stuff that’s going to go into play, you’re barely going to notice it except in the time of game a little bit" (BALTIMORE SUN, 1/19). ESPN's Michael Wilbon said he supports the changes because games "are too damn long." Wilbon: "You have to cut a half hour off these games to make them palatable.” ESPN's Tony Kornheiser: "There's nobody more important to any team in any sport than a pitcher in baseball. If a pitcher believes he's being rushed, it could be negatively affecting his performance." He added he would "never do this in the playoffs" (“PTI,” ESPN, 1/18).

Gulati said some of the ideas of the candidates are nonsensical
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Outgoing U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati said he found much of the talk around the upcoming election of his successor "depressing and disgusting," according to Paul Kennedy of SOCCER AMERICA. Gulati sat for a Q&A with Fox' Alexi Lalas on Thursday at the United Soccer Coaches Convention in Philadelphia and said that "some of the ideas of candidates are nonsensical." Gulati admitted that improvements "could be made in lots of areas," though they "couldn't be implemented quickly enough." He would "not come out and say he endorses Kathy Carter" for the president position, but it "would be a shock" if he endorsed someone other than the SUM President. He said, “We certainly have some I think are more qualified than others and some that are far less qualified than what I think is appropriate for the office" (SOCCERAMERICA.com, 1/19).

CARTER LAYS OUT PLAN: Carter on Thursday "laid out her platform" at the convention. The "main focus of her plan" was the formation of an independent commission in charge of "reforming the federation at every level" (SBISOCCER.com, 1/18). The group would be chaired by Casey Wasserman, and Carter said he "has great access to independent thought." Carter said of the possible uncoupling of MLS and USSF in a future media-rights deal: "I’m in favor of what will drive the most revenue into our sport" (TWITTER.com, 1/18). Carter's commission concept and Wasserman's involvement sparked backlash from rival candidate Hope Solo, who tweeted, "Blatant conflict of interest. How can @soccerkcarter propose that the head of a sports agency -- one with business ties to the USSF through representation of numerous athletes on the National Team -- lead an 'independent' commission to shape the future of the game? NO." TopDrawerSoccer.com's Travis Clark: "This is the first clear, tangible actionable idea I've seen from Kathy Carter, and it's... concerning. To put it kindly." Soccer America's Kennedy noted, "About 50 people listening to Kathy Carter, and I know about 45 of them. Not good if she is trying to 'get message out.' But this is reality of convention."

OWL execs believe city-based franchising will help broaden the league's audience
Photo: BLIZZARD ENTERTAINMENT

Esports has "been something of a siren call to investors with its tantalizing metrics, but it also came with nascent, messy competition and business structures," something Overwatch League has "sought to correct," according to Noah Smith of the WASHINGTON POST. OWL's stakeholders feel its city-based concept "will help broaden the audience by allowing new fans to more easily follow game play and identify with teams." Grizzlies and OWL L.A. Valiant investor Steve Kaplan said, "People like being part of something where they have local affiliation." The young demos for esports also "hold great appeal to investors outside the sports world." Former Paramount Pictures Vice Chair Rob Moore, who is OWL L.A. Gladiators President & GM, said, "It’s one of the issues the movie business struggles with the most: ‘How do we reach people under 30?’ This is a business built on people under 30." Smith noted the "long-term viability of the OWL remains an open question." Esports advisory firm Catalyst Sports & Media Exec VP Bryce Blum: "League of Legends Championship Series has a bigger player base, a proven track record, massive viewership and is selling out stadiums. But Overwatch is a new game, so it’s nowhere near its full potential." OWL's opening day on Jan. 10 had a setup "akin to a slick TV game show, but the sellout crowd, numbering 530 according to the league, gave off a feel similar to a small, but anticipated, college basketball game." Other events like the League of Legends World Championship "draw spectators numbering in the tens of thousands." Patriots Owner Robert Kraft, who owns the OWL Boston Uprising, said, "It’s hard at this point to put (esports players) in that (celebrity) category, but I do believe, five, 10 years from now, that’s the way it will be" (WASHINGTON POST, 1/18).

CITY STATES: THE RINGER's Ben Lindbergh wrote the OWL N.Y. Excelsior franchise presents an "unfamiliar dilemma for fans and players alike: Can a team truly represent a city, and secure that city’s support, if it has no real roots in the region?" The Excelsior do not appear to be "doing the best job of building its brand, despite being blessed with a large market." The team ranks "fourth in YouTube and Reddit subscribers but eighth and ninth, respectively, in Instagram and Twitter followers." Almost "all of the marketing for the team has been online-only, with the sole exception of an OWL-financed rotating digital billboard in Times Square, which ... doesn't name the Excelsior or indicate that they’re a New York-affiliated team" (THERINGER.com, 1/17).

GENDER EQUITY: OWL's opening-day rosters were "universally male, a notable embarrassment for an organization whose logo features a female hero and whose cast of in-game characters is consciously inclusive." OWL Commissioner Nate Nanzer in an email wrote, "The more professional and welcoming esports as a whole becomes, the more women will feel empowered to participate  -- and ultimately succeed" (THERINGER.com, 1/17). POLYGON's Ashley Oh wrote under the header, "An Overwatch Women’s League Isn’t The Answer." A "growing industry like esports has room to stretch its legs -- but right now, it’s a boys’ club" (POLYGON.com, 1/18).

IN-VENUE EXPERIENCE: THE VERGE's Andrew Webster wrote Blizzard Arena looks "more like a TV studio than the home of a world-class competitive league," as it was "clearly created with broadcasting in mind." Attendees are "greeted by a large shop selling team jerseys and keychains, and there’s a tiny concession stand tucked away as you walk to the seats." The "dominating feature of the arena" is the actual set where the players compete, which is "sleek and metallic." The OWL's home venue for at least its first two seasons "brings in elements from TV to in-person matches." The audience "can actually hear the play-by-play commentary," which "adds another layer of excitement to the live experience." The crowd also remains a "crucial component" to the experience (THEVERGE.com, 1/16).