Baseball has elected their next commissioner – Rob Manfred, who will take over in January from the retiring Bud Selig. As the first new commissioner in more than 20 years, there are obviously high hopes that Manfred will get the wheels moving on some of the more pressing media issues the league is dealing with right now – blackouts, the MASN mess, the cratering of CSN Houston and SportsNet LA, and the battle over San Jose’s territorial rights, among others. But if people are expecting Manfred to immediately confront these issues head on, they might be disappointed.
Bob Bowman, head of MLB Advanced Media, and Tony Pettiti, MLB Network head honcho, aren’t going anywhere. There aren’t going to be drastic changes in those divisions based on Manfred’s promotion – he’s been with the commissioner’s office for years, and has good relationships with both men. In fact, they each wrote letters supporting his candidacy for the position, a situation that White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf tried to manipulate in his favor.
When it came to support for Manfred, the teams involved in the major issues I listed above were split. Despite the final ballot coming in as unanimously in favor of Manfred, it took several ballots for Manfred to receive the 23 votes from team owners necessary for his election. The A’s, locked in a battle with the Giants for the territorial rights for San Jose, supported Red Sox owner Tom Werner for the commissioner’s post. The Nationals, who have gone to court with the Orioles in regards to MASN, supported Werner up until the very end, when they became the swing vote that gave the job to Manfred.
You can easily believe that those two clubs thought than Werner would be more sympathetic to their causes than Manfred, but in reality, it probably had more to do with revenue sharing. The Nationals, A’s (if they get a new ballpark), Blue Jays, Angels, White Sox, and Red Sox are all forfeiting chunks of their revenue sharing checks, and won’t be bringing in a dime by the year 2016. Not coincidentally, all of those teams (aside from the Nationals at the end) supported Werner on the final ballot as opposed to Manfred, one of MLB’s chief negotiators with the MLBPA during their last several collective bargaining agreements.
As for the two floundering RSNs, there actually appears to be a resolution in sight with CSN Houston. DirecTV and AT&T are in talks to purchase the network from Comcast, rebrand it as a Root Sports affiliate, and put all of this unpleasantness behind us. The Astros wouldn’t need someone sympathetic to their cause because there wouldn’t be a cause anymore – once the network is sold, the carriage deals will come soon after in short order. The situation in Los Angeles with the Dodgers is more delicate, but it’s not even a year old yet. With the Dodgers playing extremely well, the team could have a fantastic bargaining chip in offseason negotiations. Imagine the ads now – “the Dodgers look to defend their World Championship, but DirecTV doesn’t want you to see it. Tell them you want to see history”. They’d get dragged back to the table, whether they wanted to or not.
Then, there’s the blackout issue. Consumers have won the right to a trial with MLB over the blackouts that have been a source of rage for years. Manfred can’t just flip a switch and end blackouts across the country – MLB tried to set that in motion in 2008, and Comcast and other RSNs threatened to not only sue them, but also pay teams less money than they currently are. At the end of the day, money talks, and that substantial chunk of dough that the teams and their owners would be losing was enough to kill those plans before they were even put in motion. A court of law might be the only thing that can end blackouts, and Manfred isn’t going to vouch for the consumers over the owners when the owners are the ones who put him in power.
The Rob Manfred era hasn’t even started yet, and people are already wondering what he’s going to do and how he’s going to change the game. Let’s all just take a step back, relax for a minute, and let his time as commissioner begin before we start demanding change.