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Commissioner Manfred: TV Blackouts Don't Benefit Baseball

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The Commissioner was interviewed on the one-year anniversary of his taking office.

Al Yellon

Commissioner Rob Manfred has now been on the job for one year. (Time flies, right?)

On the anniversary, he sat down for a Q-and-A with Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports.

A number of topics were covered, but I'm most interested (as you surely know) about TV blackouts and territorial rights and sundry other related topics. Here's the section of the Q-and-A relating to this (boldface are the Yahoo questions):

How big of a disruption are cord-cutters going to be to a business that is so dependent on large local television contracts?

Cord-cutting is a concern for us. The biggest concern with it is we don’t know exactly – nobody knows – how big and persistent this phenomenon is going to be. The cable model has served this industry really well. Anything that interrupts that model is something we have to worry about. Having said that, I do think our over-the-top capacity at BAM (MLB Advanced Media) and BAM Tech gives us downside protection that is a little more robust than other businesses.

How can baseball leverage its success with BAM into greater growth?

I think you saw the beginning of it this year. I don’t think there’s any mystery. We have a very robust and effective distribution platform. We think if, in addition to becoming a distribution platform, we can become an aggregator of content maybe with the right partner it could be a really fantastic business development for us.

How does baseball benefit from preventing people in Las Vegas and Iowa from watching up to 40 percent of games on an average weeknight with blackouts?

It doesn’t. It just plain doesn’t.

So now that the Garber vs. MLB lawsuit is settled, is there actually something that’s going to be done about it?

I think Garber was helpful in terms of focusing us on the underserved areas and blackouts. I think you will see continuing efforts in this area. But I want to be realistic about it. One of the problems here is whether or not there is distribution in a particular area, someone bought the rights to distribute in that area. I think people think, ‘Gee, Bud Selig should’ve just thrown the switch and that was the end of it.’ The fact of the matter is you have clubs that sold rights to [regional sports networks] that have rights in certain areas, and so it’s going to be a complicated process. But one of the side benefits of Garber is we’re really focused on the topic.

As the lawyer that he is, Manfred kind of dances around the issue, even though I'm glad he specifically said that having blackouts in (using the example provided) Iowa and Las Vegas doesn't benefit baseball. On the other hand, he acknowledges that the cable-TV model has benefited baseball financially, and I don't think anyone can dispute that.

But he also realizes that the landscape of baseball is changing, and the recent lawsuit settlement, though it was only a tiny step, might be in a step in the right direction.

Manfred is also right that he has little solo power to change anything (note his comment about Bud Selig not being able to do anything unilaterally).

Assuming Manfred's comment about being "really focused on the topic" is genuine and not just lip service, maybe we can actually get some movement in the area of blackouts over the next few years.