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Rob Manfred has tried to make MLB a national sport. Now TV rights might go national, too.


One of the reasons the balanced schedule was adopted by Major League Baseball starting in 2023 was a stated desire to have more players play in more cities. The argument was: Why should some players play in certain cities only once every six years because of an artificial “league” structure that was essentially just a historical accident?

Presumably, this would make players like Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani more popular and marketable by having them play in every MLB stadium at least once every two years.

Did a balanced schedule do this? Not real. MLB attendance was up significantly last year through 2022 (70,747,365 compared to 64,556,658), but much of that can be attributed to the return to normalcy after the pandemic, not the schedule. Total MLB attendance for 2023 ranks 17th in MLB history, well short of the record 79,484,718 paid to watch games set in 2007.

The thing is, you can’t really make MLB a national sport, not with 162 games, or with the daily drumbeat of the schedule. It’s too many games for anyone to pay attention on a national level, unlike the NFL with its 17-game schedule over 18 weeks. Many games are broadcast nationally, even more so now with the NFL’s live streaming deals, and for any NFL fan, their team only plays once a week, so it’s easy to focus on that game. Beyond that, there are seven MLB teams in the Pacific time zone (or equivalent, D-backs are in Mountain time but in the summer, that’s the same as California time). These teams have dozens of games that start at 9 p.m. or later ET, so these games won’t get national attention. This is not the case with NFL games, which are all played either on Sunday afternoon or in the evening slot appropriate to Eastern time.

Serious MLB fans have six or seven games from their team to follow each week, and while people like me love the day-to-day nature of the game, the average fan listens to a lot of it. Trying to make national stars out of guys like Trout, Ohtani, Aaron Judge or even a guy with an incredible hot streak like Shota Imanaga is not possible. Even with all of this, MLB doesn’t really promote players the way they could.

That’s why a new possible proposal for national television It was detailed by Ivan Drilic at The Athletic It wouldn’t work either, in my opinion. Drelich writes:

Commissioner Rob Manfred and some sports owners are talking more seriously than ever about nationalizing baseball’s television rights. Not because of the transition, but because of communications blackouts, the failure of some traditional regional sports networks, and the simultaneous battle for streaming supremacy by Netflix, Amazon and other streamers that has left sports leagues and rights holders with a messy reform process.

Some baseball owners and executives, mostly in small markets, believe the best way to increase media revenues over the long term is to centralize the deal-making process and, from there, potentially sell regular-season broadcasts to all 30 teams as a single broadcast package. . Others in the game, especially those whose teams make the most money, are vehemently opposed to giving up their power over their rights.

Indeed, teams like the Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox, and Cubs, which are among the teams least affected by the cable outage, would likely strongly resist any plan to centralize decision-making over local baseball television. It should be noted that any such proposal, if implemented, would likely eliminate all power outages. Maybe that’s the only good thing about them.

Here is the biggest barrier:

But the most controversial issue is the dollar. Regardless of how the commissioner distributes rights, the question is: How are revenues distributed, whether by equal division or otherwise? The New York Yankees received an estimated $143 million in rights fees in 2022, a much larger amount than a team like the Colorado Rockies, who received $57 million in the same year. According to Forbes. It’s ultimately a revival of the classic baseball drama, big market versus small market.

This is exactly the difference between (for example) the NFL and MLB. The vast majority of the NFL’s revenue is generated through massive national television contracts — and that money is split evenly among the NFL’s 32 teams. That’s why small-market NFL teams can compete with their big-market brothers; They started out on roughly equal footing on a financial basis. (The NFL salary cap is, of course, a major factor as well.) At this point, it boils down to how smartly executives are evaluating players.

That’s not the case for MLB teams, which can vary in TV revenue, as noted above — and teams like the Dodgers get more from their local TV deal, which extends an additional 14 (!) years through 2038. There’s another barrier — Local television contracts that extend for many years, or channels, such as the Cubs’ Marquee Sports Network, that are partly owned by the team. Last I heard, the Cubs were getting about $100 million a year from Markey. They won’t be willing to give up that easily so Rob Manfred can have a TV “legacy” when he retires in 2029.

More from Drilich’s article:

The crux of the discussion, then, is whether baseball can flourish as a “national” sport. Ironically, the national pastime is often considered a local game.

“Like almost everything in American life, it’s all about the money,” Faye Vincent, the former baseball commissioner, said in a phone interview. “The money is very much local. You know, trying to get yourself, if you live in New York, interested in a game where Seattle travels to San Diego or something like that — it doesn’t work.”

This is absolutely true. NFL fans can be persuaded to watch a nationally broadcast game between (say) the New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys, even if those fans are not in those markets and are not really fans of those teams. Part of that is because the NFL season largely falls in the fall and early winter and more people are indoors and want something to fill their time, especially on Sunday afternoons. Now, try doing that on a summer evening that includes the same markets — the New York Yankees vs. the Texas Rangers, for example, in the Nationals game Sunday night on ESPN. Aside from fans of these two teams, only hardcore baseball fans will be watching the game. Casual fans come out to have barbecues or do something else on a summer day.

And Rob Manfred wants more of that?

There is one possibility to push the league in a more national direction, as Drelich wrote:

In a subtle distinction: MLB could launch some sort of smaller, national broadcast package, one that might include half the teams, without changing its actual rights system. Some teams today are not in exclusive deals with RSNs, which frees them up for the league to join the package immediately. Manfred has expressed interest in doing so by 2025, but doesn’t have enough teams he can put together. at this point For a viable product. However, that could change later this year, if Diamond Sports Group fails to emerge from bankruptcy.

I can see that happening, especially if Diamond doesn’t emerge from bankruptcy and the rights to those teams revert back to the league.

But overall, I will stand by my belief that baseball is a regional, not a national, sport, and should be ranked and marketed that way. In addition to not being a good fit for the kind of national television package proposed here, MLB must return to an unbalanced schedule. Divisional rivalries are the best, and I’d rather have more Cubs vs. Brewers and Cubs vs. Cardinals than random series against the Mariners or Blue Jays, no offense to fans of those teams. They should get more from their competitors as well.

As always, we await developments.



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