While most fans were focused on various signings made during baseball’s Winter Meetings, including the two made by the Cubs, Commissioner Rob Manfred held a news conference during which he discussed various topics related to the sport, reported on by Evan Drellich at The Athletic.
Among those topics was the question of who would host upcoming All-Star games:
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred confirmed Tuesday it’s possible Boston could host the game in the next few years. With the 2023 game in Seattle and the 2024 game in Arlington, Texas, 2025 is the next opening.
“The windows for the Red Sox would either be 2025 or after ’26,” Manfred said. “This is in the category of embarrassment of riches: we have a number of really good cities that are very interested in having All-Star games.”
The Cubs appear to be a possibility as well.
“They would be in that category of embarrassment of riches that I referred to when I got asked about the Red Sox,” Manfred said. “The Red Sox and the Cubs have both expressed an interest.”
At this time, the Cubs stand as the team that hasn’t hosted for the second-longest period of time. The last ASG at Wrigley Field was in 1990; the only team that hasn’t hosted for longer is the A’s, who last had one in 1987 — and I’m pretty sure they won’t have another until their stadium situation is settled. The Rays have never hosted one, and like the A’s probably won’t until they have a new place to play.. The Red Sox last hosted an ASG at Fenway Park in 1999.
All-Star Game hosting is no longer simply rotated between leagues and awarded to teams. The team and the host city have to put together a bid, as there are many ASG-connected events held outside the ballpark in question. It doesn’t seem as if the city of Chicago has made this a priority. Perhaps they will going forward.
There are two other things that Manfred mentioned at his presser that I’d like to cover here. The first is about the automated strike zone:
Manfred doesn’t sound sold on the automated strike zone and its implementation for 2024 just yet.
“That’s an interesting question,” Manfred said, before explaining that he doesn’t want to get ahead of the competition committee, which features MLB and union representatives and discusses potential rule changes. (Ultimately, though, MLB, and therefore Manfred, control the committee because they have more seats.)
“The one thing I will say from a technology perspective, or from a developmental perspective, we learned a lot about ABS in 2022, suggesting to me that we’re probably not done learning about ABS,” Manfred said.
I understand and accept this. If we are going to have the so-called “robot umps,” they are going to have to be nearly perfect. It sounds like the ABS system is getting closer, but they still have to do more testing.
In the meantime, I hope MLB adopts a ball-and-strike challenge system similar to the one I wrote about here last month:
Per this article by Zach Buchanan in The Athletic, and to refresh your memory from my September article, it works this way:
Each team enters the game with three challenges, keeping the ones it wins for repeated use. Challenges must be issued immediately, and only by the catcher, pitcher or hitter. Unlike in the replay review system currently in use for non-ball-and-strike calls in the majors, a manager cannot challenge a pitch. Umpires do not huddle or retreat to a headset, but instead watch along with the rest of the stadium as the correct call is displayed on the scoreboard.
MLB’s Competition Committee, mentioned in Drellich’s article, would have to approve the ABS system. However, I believe that Manfred could institute the ball-and-strike challenge system unilaterally with 45 days’ notice to the Players Association. I would love to see such a system used in MLB in 2023.
Lastly, Manfred addressed how baseball is distributed on TV and acknowledged that the regional sports network system, which now dominates local baseball TV broadcasts, is probably broken:
“The RSN model as it exists today is probably not sustainable over the long haul as a result of the number of people that are opting out of the cable bundle,” Manfred said.
“When you accept that as a reality, it creates an opportunity for conversations between clubs, content owners, broadcast entities — RSNs and otherwise — and distributors as to how that deck is going to be reshuffled. A major player in that is distributors that hold the exclusivity right now. There is an ongoing process, conversations among the major players, directed at trying to come up with a new model that’s more sustainable, and most important from our perspective, gives us better reach in terms of fans being able to get games whether they’re in the bundle or out of the bundle.”
The exclusivity described by Manfred is the issue, and it’s the reason for the current blackout model, and for that I’m going to post my favorite map again:
Many of you are all too familiar with the blackouts this map causes. The territories carved up by RSNs are a 1980s business model that, as Manfred says, is not sustainable in 2022 when so many people have cut the cord and streaming appears to be the way most people will consume TV at home (and on mobile devices) going forward.
Several of the Bally Sports regional networks have created stand-alone streaming services that allow fans to watch MLB games in-market — you can read about those here. I know that Marquee Sports Network has been working to create a stand-alone service like that one where Cubs fans who reside within the team’s market territory could watch the network and Cubs games. I am hoping that happens for you in 2023. In the meantime, Cubs fans outside the market territory will continue to watch games via MLB.TV, the sport’s streaming service. If you live outside the Cubs market territory and are a DirecTV subscriber, you can also watch Marquee’s other programming.
There are some other topics covered in Drellich’s article on Manfred’s news conference that are worth reading, including the Tampa Bay and Oakland stadium situations (not much new) and the money that MLB teams are going to get from MLB’s sale of their remaining ownership interest in BAMTech to Disney, about which Manfred said:
MLB just sold another stake in BAMTech to Disney for $900 million, which averages out to $30 million per club, and Manfred was asked whether that money would be used in free agency.
“We actually closed the transaction, so central baseball’s received the money,” Manfred said. “The money will go out to the clubs before year end, they know exactly what they’re getting and when they’re gonna get it. Like every other decision, it’s an individual club decision as to whether they want to take that money and put it into player payroll or they want to reduce that — and what we saw with the other or two … BAMTech payments, clubs, it was a mixed bag. Clubs did different things with it. And I expect that will sort of be the same this time around.”
Let’s hope the Cubs use that money on players. As always, we await developments.