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Sports Then and Now

Will Rob Manfred Make Baseball Better?

Posted on January 25, 2015 by Dean Hybl
On his first day as commissioner, Rob Manfred sent a letter to baseball fans outlining his immediate areas of focus.

On his first day as commissioner, Rob Manfred sent a letter to baseball fans outlining his immediate areas of focus.

Today is the beginning of a new era in Major League Baseball. After more than 20 years, Bud Selig has finally relinquished control of “America’s Pastime.” His replacement, Rob Manfred, will have a hard time being as bad for the game as Selig, so hopefully he will be a refreshing change for the sport and help return it to previous glory as one of America’s treasures.

Manfred’s first action was to write a letter to baseball fans telling them of his desire to grow the game among youth and within urban areas.

It is a nice thought, but based just on the language of his letter, I have a feeling he has a different strategy for how to achieve that growth than I do.

As a life-long baseball lover and the father of a nine-year-old son who enjoys baseball, but has many other sports, activities and technology tugging at his time and interest, here are three things that I think would help achieve his goal to strengthen the sport for generations to come.

1.Make Watching and Enjoying Baseball Affordable – I understand that baseball is a business and one of the goals is to make money, but as the middle class continues to struggle in a country where the gap between income levels is continuing to widen, all entertainment options must recognize that continuing to increase prices will ultimately reduce the number of people interested in their product. Last year my family spent a day in Baltimore that culminated with attending an Orioles game. The combined cost for tickets (we sat in the lower deck along the first baseline), parking, food and merchandise was quite hefty. For a one-time thing, it was something we could budget for and afford. However, going to a game would not be something we could afford on a regular basis. When the Orioles were contending in the early 1990s, tickets to games at Camden Yards were tough to find and the Birds often led the league in attendance. Though they have been successful again over the last three seasons, there seems to still be a lot of empty seats even for big games. I can’t help but believe that the fact that it is just really expensive to go to a game is one reason. I know even the new Yankee Stadium is rarely completely full and with tickets for their games higher than anywhere else you can understand why.

If Manfred wants the next generation of fans to continue attending games, then he better make sure that the game experience doesn’t become so expensive that their parents can’t afford to take them to games in person or to buy a hat, jersey and other merchandise without taking out a loan. I know that like the NFL, MLB is looking to continue increasing their revenue, but if going to major league games ever gets to the point that the only people attending are the wealthy and the inner-city poor who receive tickets through charity organizations supported by the team, it will not help grow the overall love for the game.

What is the Best Thing Rob Manfred Could Do To Grow Baseball's Popularity?

  • Make sure ticket and merchandise prices remain affordable (40%, 6 Votes)
  • Make sure competitive balance is maintained (20%, 3 Votes)
  • Speed up the games (20%, 3 Votes)
  • Make sure playoff and World Series games end at a reasonable hour (13%, 2 Votes)
  • Boost youth baseball in the inner-cities (7%, 1 Votes)

Total Voters: 15

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2.Find Competitive Balance – One of the reasons I have despised the tenure of Selig as commissioner is because he destroyed competitive balance. He can point to successes of smaller market teams like the A’s, Marlins, Rays and more recently the Royals, but the reality is that the current system makes it much easier for teams with large payrolls to be annually competitive and almost ensures that middle and lower payroll teams are going to go through prolonged periods of rebuilding. Since 1995, more franchises have endured long stretches of losing seasons than ever before in baseball history. It was great to see the Royals and Orioles playing in the American League Championship Series last fall, but both teams have already been forced to make financial decisions that have weakened their rosters and make a return trip unlikely. Conversely, larger payroll teams are able to keep firing away and bring in the next stars that can help them win while often still paying for the previous stars. And while we have seen teams like the Rays and Royals in the World Series, the last team to win a World Series without ranking in the top half in MLB in payroll was the 2003 Marlins.

Unless Manfred ultimately wants all baseball fans to be fans of the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Cubs, Cardinals, Nationals and Tigers, he needs to make sure that the league and players association spend the next collective bargaining agreement developing a system that provides real competitive balance and gives every team a legitimate chance to keep their stars and key players when they reach the point of being able to test free agency.


Will Rob Manfred really be able to create dynamic changes that help Major League Baseball?

Will Rob Manfred really be able to create dynamic changes that help Major League Baseball?

3. Start Playoff and World Series Games Early – I think the league has done a little better the last couple years in trying to start some playoff games at a time that guarantees the audience on the East Coast will still be awake when the game ends, but they still need to make a concerted effort to ensure that the most important games of the season do not end at 11 or 12 p.m. on the East Coast. If you really want a generation to care about your game, then they need to be able to watch the special moments. I remember as a kid the World Series games taking place in the afternoons. I know with college football and the NFL now as direct competitors it is a bit harder, but if you could make it a goal for all East Coast playoff games and all World Series games (no matter where they are played) to be over by 10:30 p.m. EDT, you would have more parents willing to allow their youngsters to stay up for these special nights. You would also have a lot more working adults who are usually in bed by 10 pm be willing to stay up a little longer. But now, with no guarantee that the games will end before 11:30 pm or midnight, you are losing a large audience.

The idea of speeding up the game could ultimately help with reducing the late night endings, but I hope Manfred doesn’t rely only on reducing game times to ensure that the East Coast isn’t asleep when the biggest plays of the year happen.

There are of course many other things that I think that Manfred could do to draw back fans who have been lost over the years because of strikes, steroids and other turnoffs that have occurred during the Selig administration. However, since Manfred focused his first letter primarily on the next generation, I focused my thoughts primarily on these three ways to help keep from losing young people like my son.

Even though he is from within the past administration, I do hope that Manfred follows through on his promises to keep the game moving forward. Only time will tell.

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