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Volume 21 No. 1

Leagues and Governing Bodies

Rob Manfred was all smiles after owners ended a long day of voting.
Photo by: AP IMAGES
The Rob Manfred Era of Major League Baseball didn’t begin with anything resembling a coronation, and his pending administration will be anything but as well.

Last week’s owners vote in Baltimore to make Manfred, previously the league’s chief operating officer, the league’s 10th commissioner had none of the typical political hallmarks of Bud Selig’s tenure. Rather than a typical Selig 30-0 vote that wouldn’t even be called until everything was lined up and concluded with minimal debate, the succession vote came several weeks before most owners previously thought it would and required at least five ballots last Thursday to complete.


SBJ Podcast:
Baseball writer Eric Fisher and Executive Editor Abraham Madkour discuss the vote in Baltimore and the challenges Rob Manfred faces as the new MLB commissioner.

While the final vote was a symbolic 30-0 gesture toward Manfred, the path to the result was a bruising and at times personal battle, after a block of eight teams favoring rival finalist candidate and Boston Red Sox Chairman Tom Werner extended the debate into an arduous daylong marathon.

The lack of owner unanimity is only beginning for Manfred. The voting process showed there is a strident group of clubs, led in part by Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, for whom Manfred was not at all their first choice. And with a wide range of troubling issues awaiting Manfred (see related story), choppy political waters are ahead.

But while the process may not have been the traditionally clean one, owners felt its result was a success.

Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf (with Commissioner Bud Selig at Allen & Co.’s Sun Valley Conference in July) was part of a group of owners supporting Tom Werner’s candidacy, but in the end Manfred, Selig’s chosen successor, won enough votes to become commissioner.
“I deeply believe in constructive dissent,” said Pittsburgh Pirates owner Bob Nutting, one of the seven owners on the Selig-appointed succession committee. “And this was not a locked-down thing. This was not at all a pre-determined process. There was open and spirited debate with two really great candidates at the end, but critically toward a common goal. I think that’s healthy for any organization. The process here worked.”

One primary reason for Manfred’s relative lack of owner control is clear. Selig over his 22 years running the sport played a critical if not singular role in placing many club owners in their current positions, with those clubs in turn owing their existence in MLB to the retiring commissioner. That allowed over the years for a powerful flexing of political

Photo by: AP IMAGES

Manfred himself acknowledged he has very large shoes to fill when it comes to Selig’s political muscle in building consensus.

“I’m going to work very hard to maintain the tradition of unity [created by Selig] as we move the game forward,” Manfred said.

During the press conference introducing Manfred as the next commissioner, Selig was beaming, having posted perhaps a final major political victory in his lengthy career for his

Candidate Tom Werner speaks to reporters after the final vote.
Photo by: AP IMAGES
favored Manfred.

The election of Manfred arrived at the end of a long, two-day process in which Manfred, Werner, and Tim Brosnan — MLB executive vice president of business — each gave presentations on their visions for the future of baseball and then were extensively questioned by team owners. After many years in which individual club voices were not necessarily always heard, club executives said they truly relished the rare opportunity to openly debate at considerable length how the sport should operate.


Rob Manfred
■ Age: 55
■ Family: Wife: Colleen; children: Megan, Michael, Jane, Mary Clare
■ Education: B.S., Cornell, 1980; J.D., Harvard Law School, 1983
■ MLB chief operating officer, 2013-present
■ MLB executive vice president of economics and league affairs, 2012-13
■ MLB executive vice president labor relations and human resources, 1998-2012
■ Morgan, Lewis & Bockius partner, 1991-98
■ Morgan, Lewis & Bockius associate, 1984-91
■ Law clerk to U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro, 1983-84

Tom Werner
■ Age: 64
■ Children: Teddy, Carolyn, Amanda
■ Education: B.A., Harvard University, 1971
■ Liverpool FC chairman, 2010-present
■ Boston Red Sox chairman, 2002-present
■ Fenway Sports Group co-founder and chairman (originally New England Sports Ventures), 2001-present
■ San Diego Padres general managing partner and chairman, 1990-94
■ Carsey-Werner Co. co-owner, 1980-present
■ ABC Television producer and executive, 1972–80

After the final question-and-answer periods, Brosnan withdrew his candidacy, a move he said was designed in part to make the voting process “more efficient.”

“There was considerable debate and dialogue, to be certain, but that’s all right,” said Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria. “This was all about a process.”

Numerous club and industry executives said the Manfred era will in many ways resemble those of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, each of whom was also a No. 2 league executive who was elevated to his league’s top job, and both have subsequently shown a greater level of inclusiveness with team owners than their predecessors.

“No matter who was coming in after Selig, even if it was Judge Landis returning from the grave, the political climate was going to be more turbulent,” said Marc Ganis, a Chicago-based sports industry consultant who frequently works with MLB and member clubs. “Bud Selig is a unique facilitator, and really the kind of executive you don’t see anymore. But this is about the evolution of the business of baseball. You’re going to see the beginning of an era where individual owners are heard from more, and that’s OK. It’s happened under Goodell and Silver as well, and they’ve both performed remarkably.”

For much of the day Thursday, support for Manfred vacillated between 20 and 22 votes, short of the necessary 23 votes for inclusion. Fervent support for Werner lie in a group of clubs that was believed to be Reinsdorf’s White Sox along with Oakland, Boston, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Arizona, Toronto, Cincinnati and Milwaukee.

The group’s support for Werner lie in two key points, a belief Manfred had grown too soft in his relationship with the MLB Players Association, and a preference for the commissioner coming from team ownership as Selig did as opposed to a staff position.

Club executives described the process to get from that divide between the Manfred and Werner camps to consensus behind Manfred alone as not a singular pivot point, but more gradual over the many hours of debate.

The political fallout for owners in the pro-Werner camp is likely to be varied. One industry source said Reinsdorf “got his ass handed to him” as a result of the Manfred election, and his status as a baseball industry kingmaker is now certainly winnowed. A statement from Reinsdorf called the commissioner selection “likely baseball’s most important in my remaining time as owner.” Other owners, such as Boston’s John Henry and Arte Moreno of the Angels, remain on many key MLB committees and represent key markets for the sport.

“Everybody worked very hard to get to the end,” said Oakland A’s owner Lew Wolff, diplomatically adding the sport is in “good hands” with Manfred. “I really enjoyed the process, and you have to remember that there’s a history for this kind of thing with commissioner votes in baseball.”

Manfred at MLB: Career highlights

1987 1990 1995 1998 2005 2011 2012 2013
As an associate at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, Manfred becomes involved in baseball when the firm is retained as counsel for MLB’s Player Relations Committee. Manfred assists in collective-bargaining negotiations during the spring training lockout. During the 1994-95 strike, Manfred serves as outside counsel for the owners. MLB hires Manfred as executive vice president of labor relations and human resources. MLB and the MLBPA agree to a new policy on performance-enhancing drugs, a cause that Manfred will continue to help direct. Manfred plays a lead role for MLB in labor negotiations, as he did in 2002 and 2006. All three new collective-bargaining agreements are reached without work stoppages. Manfred heads baseball’s charge to force out Frank McCourt as owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers. MLB Commissioner Bud Selig changes Manfred’s title to executive vice president of economics and league affairs.
Manfred is promoted to chief operating officer.

Previous commissioner selections

Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis (1921-44)
After the 1919 World Series scandal, Landis was approached by team owners about becoming baseball’s first commissioner. He would be elected to the position in January 1921.
A.B. “Happy” Chandler (1945-51)
After Landis’ death in November 1944, Chandler, a Kentucky senator, was named MLB’s second commissioner April 24, 1945.
Ford Frick (1951-65)
Frick, the National League’s president, and Cincinnati Reds President Warren Giles were the finalists to be baseball’s new commissioner. Giles would later withdraw from the race after a stalemate in the voting. Frick was named commissioner, and Giles replaced him as NL president.
William Eckert (1965-68)
Eckert, retired from the Air Force as a lieutenant general, was elected baseball’s fourth commissioner Nov. 17, 1965, by a unanimous vote of major league club owners, after Ford Frick retired. More than 150 names appeared on the original list of nominees for the position.
Bowie Kuhn (1969-84)
The race for a new commissioner came down to two candidates: Mike Burke, president of the New York Yankees, and the San Francisco Giants’ Chub Feeney. During a gridlock in the voting, baseball’s legal counsel, Bowie Kuhn, was mentioned as a possible candidate and was later elected by unanimous vote.
Peter Ueberroth (1984-88)
Peter Ueberroth was selected as baseball’s sixth commissioner by a unanimous vote of the 26 club owners on March 3, 1984. He took office later that year, after his success organizing the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
A. Bartlett Giamatti (1988-89)
By unanimous vote of the 26 team owners, Giamatti was named baseball’s seventh commissioner. Giamatti’s tenure as commissioner would last less than a year before he died of a heart attack.
Fay Vincent (1989-92)
Vincent was named baseball’s eighth commissioner, and its third within a year, in a unanimous 26-0 vote of major league owners on Sept. 13, 1989.
Bud Selig (1998-present)
After serving as the acting commissioner since September 1992, Selig was elected commissioner July 9, 1998, by a unanimous 30-0 vote.

It was a long, tense day at the Hyatt Regency Baltimore last Thursday.

A meeting that started at 8:30 a.m. ended at roughly 6 p.m. when Rob Manfred was named MLB’s 10th commissioner. The longtime MLB executive will lead baseball during a pivotal point in history.


SBJ Podcast:
Baseball writer Eric Fisher and Executive Editor Abraham Madkour discuss the vote in Baltimore and the challenges Rob Manfred faces as the new MLB commissioner.

MLB is awash in record revenue, soaring franchise values, historic competitive balance, tech innovation, and boasts an appealing global game. The state of the game is strong compared with 20, 10 or even five years ago.

But the prevailing undercurrent of last week’s vote reflected a perception of a future that’s much more uncertain, and the quest of how best to position baseball in a rapidly shifting media and entertainment landscape.

The three finalists for the commissioner job each made lengthy presentations to team owners focused on boosting the sport’s relevancy against that more tenuous backdrop.

“Baseball has a lot of issues in front of it, and each of [the finalists] had real ideas on how to address them in different ways,” Miami Marlins President David Samson said.

These are five key issues that Manfred will inherit when he takes over for the retiring Bud Selig in January.


The No. 1 complaint with MLB’s on-field product: The average time to play a regular-season game has stubbornly stayed around three hours for years, despite continued efforts to hasten play.

The independent Atlantic League has seen notable success this season with its own pace-of-play efforts, shaving 20 minutes off its average time of games thus far to 2:39. The Atlantic League’s measures include fewer warm-up pitches at the start of each inning, a prohibition on hitters leaving the batter’s box, a strict enforcement on umpires calling the entire strike zone, and managers simply holding up four fingers to issue an intentional walk. MLB’s instructional and fall leagues provide a fertile ground to experiment with many of these ideas.

Instant replay is also tied into this discussion, and despite generally positive reviews for the introduction this season of a widely expanded system, tweaks are being considered to streamline the process.


The last 15 years of revenue sharing has helped do wonders to improve baseball’s on-field competitive balance, but club unrest is growing on how the system should be adapted to a new era of sharply escalating local TV rights fees. What is specifically subject to revenue sharing lies at the root of the media rights dispute involving the Washington Nationals, Baltimore Orioles and Mid-Atlantic Sports Network. And many owners remain irate that all but about $2 billion of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ blockbuster $8.3 billion TV deal with Time Warner Cable is exempt from revenue sharing.

A revenues sharing definitions committee attempted to arbitrate the MASN dispute, but the makeup and outcome of that three-owner panel is now in the New York State Supreme Court. A much larger discussion on what should be taxed for revenue-sharing purposes will be a core element of coming labor talks with the MLB Players Association in 2016.


Another point of focus during last week’s commissioner candidate presentations: MLB holds one of the oldest average audiences among major U.S. sports leagues.

Several successful initiatives are helping attract younger fans to baseball, including the Fan Cave and the sport’s extensive digital deployment through MLB Advanced Media. But in order to boost flattening attendance and national TV audiences, much more will need to be done to engage under-25 fans.

Oakland, like Tampa, plays in an outdated stadium with no replacement in the works.

One way to think about a sports league is like a chain that is only as strong as its weakest links. And these two franchises, despite being regularly competitive on the field, play in badly outdated facilities with no pending plans for either new ballparks or extensive rehabilitation projects.

A glimmer of hope now exists in Oakland after a recent 10-year lease extension for the Coliseum, and growing whispers the co-tenant Raiders could head back to Los Angeles and in turn open up the stadium for A’s owner Lew Wolff to redevelop. Such a move would also make moot the long-running territorial debate with the San Francisco Giants over the San Jose market. But solutions for either franchise never emerged during the Selig era.


Baseball has the toughest testing and penalty program in U.S. professional sports, but the recent Biogenesis episode exposed significant flaws in the program, and how far some players will go to conceal use of performance enhancing substances. Many of the suspended players in that case never failed a drug test, and investigative procedures to determine nonanalytic positives will require continued refinement. MLB and the union before this season issued a series of toughened drug provisions, including increased suspensions and closing of loopholes that allowed suspended players to still receive some pay. It’s safe to say that such announcements will continue.

After a regular season marked by two new major promotional efforts, the WNBA expects to see at least six of its 12 teams post a profit for 2014, the same number of clubs as last year.

Final league revenue won’t be known until after the postseason ends next month, but league President Laurel Richie said last week that the WNBA expects to see the number of profitable clubs match the count from last year. She said deals with new league sponsors Diageo, Samsung and Essence that brought a single-digit increase in overall league sponsorship revenue paid dividends financially for the league’s clubs, as well.

San Antonio, Minnesota, Connecticut, Indiana, Phoenix and Seattle were the league’s six profitable teams last year.

“I’m optimistic on that front, and we still have the playoffs,” Richie said. “Our partnership revenue is up from last

Viewership on ESPN2 this year was up for the second consecutive season. Meanwhile, the league saw gains from its new WNBA Pride campaign.
Photo by: NBAE / GETTY IMAGES (2)

year, [and] we have the extension with ESPN and the revenues associated with it.”

The WNBA and ESPN last year signed a six-year extension of their TV deal, to run through 2022, valued at $12 million per year.

Viewership on ESPN2 this year was up for the second consecutive season. The WNBA averaged 240,000 viewers over 19 games this year compared with an average of 231,000 viewers over 13 games last year. In 2012, the league averaged 180,000 viewers over nine games.

On NBA TV, the WNBA this year was averaging 53,000 viewers over 34 games through last Tuesday. That compares with 51,000 viewers over 45 games last year.

Beyond media, the league this year looked to raise its profile with its new WNBA Pride campaign, aimed at the LGBT community, and its Summer Hoops initiative. In terms of results, the league’s Pride T-shirt led all NBA merchandise sales during the first week of sales back in May. Meanwhile, at the gate, the league was averaging 7,452 fans per game this year as of last Thursday, with 13 games to go in its 204-game regular season. Through the same number of games in 2013, the league was averaging 7,439 fans per game.

Last year, for the full season, the WNBA averaged 7,531 fans per game, up from an average of 7,457 in 2012 that was the league’s all-time low. League officials last week said they expected the final regular-season numbers for this year to be flat compared with last year.

The league now looks to find traction for its postseason, with playoff games starting on Thursday. A 30-second spot promoting the playoffs began running on NBA TV last week and will continue on both ESPN and NBA TV throughout the postseason. Plans also call for an ESPN-produced radio spot and digital ads on,,, Google, Facebook, and

In addition, ESPN plans to feature ABC’s broadcast of Game 1 of the WNBA Finals on its Times Square super sign, a first for the league. It also marks the first WNBA Finals game on ABC since 2010.