MLB, MLBPA Agree To Loosen Color Restrictions For Players' Cleats
MLB has approved an amendment to the CBA that "finally loosens restrictions on the design and colors of players' footwear in games," according to Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY. Players were "furious last season that they were being warned and fined" by MLB if their footwear "did not adhere to league-mandated rules." They now will be "permitted to wear footwear of their choice as long as it adheres" to the new specifications. Shoe designs "will have to be pre-approved by teams." When Cubs 2B Ben Zobrist "complained to MLB this season about the footwear restrictions, he explained his black cleats were a tribute to players he idolized" while also tying the issue to growing "young fans' interest in the game." Zobrist wrote, "Maybe there is some kid out there that will be inspired to look more into the history of the game by the 'flexibility' that I prefer in the color of my shoes" (USA TODAY, 11/16). In N.Y., James Wagner notes players beginning in '17 were "given a taste of more freedom" to express themselves on the field during Players Weekend, when they could wear "whatever cleats they designed." One reason players, not to mention shoe companies, "embraced Players Weekend is that MLB has fallen behind in player promotion and self-expression, compared to other professional leagues, particularly the NBA" (N.Y. TIMES, 11/16).
ISSUES AT HAND: In N.Y., Ken Davidoff writes MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, who received a five-year extension through '24 on Thursday, knows the sport "must become more appealing" to young fans. The proposed pitch clock "remains on the table" for '19, although Manfred "strongly hinted he would give up on that ... if the players gave in on other pace-of-play issues." Meanwhile, attendance this past season dropped by more than 3 million fans from '17, and Manfred "conceded that the topic came up in Thursday morning's general session, as did the topic of how to better monetize the new gambling landscape." If Manfred "isn't saying the sky is falling, he at least acknowledges that it isn't a perfectly sunny day in baseball's world" (N.Y. POST, 11/16). Manfred said he is "not sure that concern is really the word that I would use to characterize the conversation" regarding the attendance drop. Manfred: "The owners as a group are realistic about how the business performed. The focus of the conversation, however, was trying to make sure that we do everything to get as many fans in the ballpark in 2019 as we possibly can, and we believe we have some good ideas that we'll be rolling out in the next few months" (NEWSDAY, 11/16).
GOOD TO HAVE ON HAND: MLB Network’s Matt Vasgersian said Manfred's extension is “good news for any fan” of MLB. The game has "enjoyed unrivaled labor prosperity" and a new "media profile in terms of the international and digital market." Vasgersian: "Rob Manfred one of those most responsible for that growth” (“High Heat,” MLB Network, 11/15). ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser said the extension is a “real endorsement for a guy who wants to change the game” (“PTI,” ESPN, 11/15). MLB Network’s Brian Kenny noted “business is booming” for MLB, though he acknowledged there are “grand strategy issues that Rob Manfred discussed on a regular basis” ("MLB Now," MLB Network, 11/15).