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Volume 26 No. 5
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Manfred Pledges More Esports Progress From MLB In '19

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred acknowledged the league’s esports strategy to date “has been kind of a weak spot for us” but pledged more developments in the space this year. He said yesterday at SportTechie’s State Of The Industry conference in N.Y., “It is a real priority for us going forward. It’s tough to say more than this, but I’m pretty confident, in 2019, we’re going to have a really nice announcement in that space.” Unlike other properties that have created entire esports leagues or tournament series around flagship simulation video game titles, MLB has chosen to focus its competitive gaming efforts to date around its Home Run Derby VR game, staging competitions at real-world events such as the All-Star Game and Little League World Series. “We see that as having real upside for us. It’s really portable and can be used in a lot of places,” he said.

HOME RUN RATES: A study commissioned by MLB and completed early last year suggested that sharply increased home run rates since ’15 may be due to a more centered pill inside official league baseballs. It also found that the official balls in recent years definitely have improved aerodynamic properties. However, Manfred yesterday said he continues to believe the home run surge is more due to other non-ball factors such as improved analytics, coaching and training. “The way I think about the study is while the pill may be more centered, or whatever, there was nothing that changed in the manufacturing process, other than maybe they got a little better at it in terms of quality control,” Manfred said. “I don’t think the variation that was identified is the driving factor in the changes you’re seeing on the field.”

AUTOMATED STRIKE ZONE: Manfred hailed the league’s new partnership with the Atlantic League to test experimental rules and equipment, such as automated calls of balls and strikes, and praised “a very enlightened ownership group [that] was willing to work with us to try some things.” However, he cautioned that even with advanced technology and further testing, a deployment of electronic-based umpiring in the major leagues could still be far away. “Whether you have the technology or not, I think this is one of those areas where you have to think about the management of the game on the field,” he said. “Before you alter that fundamental dynamic, you really have to think through what the consequence of that is going to be.”