MLB Owners Meetings are happening over Wednesday and Thursday of this week, following last week’s GM Meetings in Carlsbad, CA and preceding the Winter Meetings happening in early December in Las Vegas. The GM Meetings brought us magic like Scott Boras’ introduction of “Harper’s Bazaar” to the world and a questionable rumor about the Cubs maybe trading Kris Bryant. Now, the Owners Meetings will cover things like a Rob Manfred extension as commissioner, rule changes, and discussing a TV contract extension.
The full agenda hasn’t been released publicly but there are at least a few known topics that could be approached in the exact wrong way and in the process overcorrect flaws in the game. Nothing besides a Manfred extension will be fully decided this week — any rule changes require a year delay or union agreement and anything else will simply set the stage for a confirmation or dismissal later — but how that stage is set will make a difference in whether the changes to the sport are smart or incredibly misguided.
Rob Manfred will be MLB Commissioner forever
The most sure outcome of these meetings seems to be an extension for Rob Manfred as commissioner. Originally elected to the role in 2014, Manfred already successfully navigated one CBA extension. That extension, which covers the 2017-2021 seasons, is quickly coming due and Manfred’s deal will expire in 2019 as things currently stand.
With the next CBA negotiations likely set to be more contentious than previous rounds of talks between the MLBPA and the league — thanks to rising revenues amid a backdrop of collusion accusations and apparent player dissatisfaction — it makes sense for the owners to keep Manfred in place through those talks and make sure he has job security without question in the lead up to that point. However, a five year extension as rumored also overshoots that negotiation point by quite a bit.
Which means the owners are more than satisfied by his performance as it relates to their interests so far, and Manfred being a Selig acolyte before his ascension is always going to help him. But will too much job security, especially as the league enters a period during which it will have to navigate a more contentious attempt at diplomacy, blow back by giving Manfred too much comfort in his position. The owners don’t care about whether that’s the result obviously, but fans should.
Keep the TV talks simple
Right now, MLB has a postseason agreement with FOX and Turner Broadcasting. The current deal is set to expire in 2021 so an extension doesn’t have to happen right now but it’s reportedly on the agenda this week. The correct move would be for MLB to fix the mistake they made in the last deal, reversing the agreement with FOX to allow postseason games to be broadcast on FS1 rather than the main FOX channel.
As of now, only the World Series is aired on FOX with the majority of other FOX-controlled games airing on FS1. This is due to the network successfully negotiating to get games on a then-fledgling channel that needed extra viewers in exchange for more money going into the league’s pockets, but it had the side effect of shunting some of MLB’s most important games off to a channel some cable subscribers don’t have. However, why would the league make an easy change when they could make things even more complicated for their audience?
Cable subscribers are only getting more important to hold on to for networks thanks to their increasing scarcity. So FOX isn’t about to enter into extension negotiations lightly. Could they offer even more money to maintain the FS1 status quo? Probably. Ideally, the league will realize the flaw in their agreement and push for FOX to be the only channel to air postseason games no matter the potential cut to their bottom line. But it’s MLB owners and the bottom line is the most important thing and viewership probably isn’t down enough to push them to reconsider this problem.
Combined with the agenda item around subscription video streaming platform DAZN (where former ESPN boss John Skipper is now the chairman of their parent company) and the option for in-game cut-ins with the service, and it looks like we’re heading to a few days of meetings where old white men will decide the direction of television coverage of their sport should continue to involve hard-to-find, niche channels with additional cut-ins or advertising gimmicks. Which is the exact opposite direction that will successfully attract new, young viewers the sport so desperately needs.
Rule changes related to the shift, disabled list, and trade deadline
Current reports have the league waiting to make changes until just before Spring Training, which is the usual case. We’ll hear about potential rule changes and the reactions from the union throughout the winter until a decision is made one way or another, just as it was last year with the pitch clock discussions.
Of all the items on the agenda, these potential rule changes could be the most annoying discussion out of the Owners Meetings. The on-field changes (limiting the shift and continued talks about a pitch clock) would be the most obvious changes to propose, and ones that we know won’t increase interest in the game by increasing on-field action as owners are looking to do. The mound visit change only reduced average regular season game time by five minutes in 2018, and did anyone notice?
Limiting how teams can use an infield shift will be more frustrating in abstract than it will actually effective in making games more interesting. The shift is interesting as is, and also hilarious the more drastic it is. Changes to the disabled list, waivers, and the trade deadline would seemingly only make things more complicated, increasing the barrier to entry for casual fans to understanding the nuances of an MLB season. Attempting to limit the use of “openers” could be rife with misguided solutions that don’t actually fix the supposed problems with not using traditional starters.
Add to that the subject of technology-aided sign stealing on the docket, and it seems like a lot of topics that the owners have shown they don’t have a complete handle on in the past. These are the most likely areas for owners to overthink things and try to significantly change parts of the game that don’t need to be changed at all.