Commissioner pleased with ratings increase
Manfred addresses postseason, diversity, fantasy and scheduling
KANSAS CITY -- Postseason television ratings on TBS and FS1 are up 18 percent this year, Commissioner Rob Manfred said Monday, calling it the most pleasant development of his tenure to date.
"We had really competitive series that generated a tremendous amount of interest, and I think we're going to have a great World Series," he said. "It really has been fantastic this year."
On the eve of presiding over his first World Series since becoming Commissioner, Manfred fielded a wide range of questions during a media availability Monday at Kauffman Stadium. Manfred will answer questions from fans in the Edward Jones Chatting Cage on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. ET, live on MLB.com.
Manfred said he was encouraged that the Royals and Mets, two teams with mid-level payrolls, have advanced to the World Series, which begins Tuesday (7:30 p.m. ET air time on FOX, 8 p.m. game time).
"I think in the LCS we didn't have anybody in the top 10 [in payroll]. I think that Kansas City, kind of middle of the pack. And actually, Kansas City higher than New York," he said. "I think all those three facts are positives for the game. It shows that teams in all sorts of markets, if they have a strategy and stick to it, can win. And I think that's really, really important for the sport, for our fans to appreciate that fact."
Manfred said his biggest challenge this year was continuing baseball's efforts to promote diversity for front-office and managerial openings.
Seven teams hired general managers this season, none were minorities. And there's a chance that the 2016 season will open without an African-American manager. The Marlins, Nationals and Padres have managerial openings. Dusty Baker, who is African-American, is a finalist for the job in Washington.
"We have had a year where our numbers are down in terms of the diversity that we have in some of our key positions," Manfred said. "And I think it's incumbent upon us to come up with additional programs and ways to make sure that our numbers look better over the long haul."
In August, Major League Baseball announced that it has retained the firm of Korn Ferry to help minority candidates prepare for the interview process. Manfred often has spoken since about the need for baseball to focus on hiring minorities for entry-level positions to help develop a strong slate of candidates in the future.
"I do think that there is a certain cyclical nature to this. Obviously, field managers are high-turnover jobs. And you're going to have peaks and valleys in terms of representation within what's a very small sample; there's only 30 of them out there," Manfred said.
"Having said that, we are focused on the need to promote diversity, not just African-American, but Latino, as well, in the managerial ranks. I am committed to what I've started to refer to as the 'Selig Rule,' the interview requirement that Commissioner [Bud] Selig originally imposed. It's a topic we're committed to, we're going to look at it as a long-term project. That's why we're focused on the beginning of the pipeline as well as the actual hirings."
Manfred stressed that he believes each team has hired the person it felt was most qualified.
"What we need to do is make sure that we work very hard to have diverse candidates who turn out to be the most qualified person for the job," Manfred said. "And we are committed to that undertaking. We've expanded the program significantly and will be talking to the owners about that program again [at the Owners Meetings in Dallas] in November."
Also on the agenda for Dallas will be a detailed report on the feasibility of extending netting at ballparks to increase fan safety from foul balls and broken bats.
The Commissioner also was asked if he has had second thoughts about MLB's partnership with DraftKings in light of recent revelations that an employee of the site made large amounts of money while playing with inside information on rival FanDuel.
"I really don't have regrets about our involvement with fantasy. I think that fantasy is an important source of fan engagement. It has been for a long time," he said. "We did thoroughly investigate the games that were available on the site. That was a major factor in terms of selecting a partner in the fantasy space. And we were completely comfortable with the idea that those games were consistent with the existing federal law."
Manfred stressed that he does not believe fantasy sports is gambling.
"I do not. I do not," he said. "I'm quite convinced it is a game of skill, as defined by the federal statute. And I'm comfortable with the idea that it's not gaming. [But] put the law to one side.
"From my perspective, there's a huge difference between Rob Manfred, citizen, betting on whether Kansas City beats Toronto or whomever on the one hand, and Rob Manfred picking nine guys off 18 teams to try to see if he can accumulate more points within a given set of guidelines than a hundred guys trying to do the same thing. I see those differently. I see those as very different dynamics."
For the record, he said he does not participate in any fantasy sports leagues.
If the World Series goes seven games, it will end on Nov. 4. Manfred conceded that's not ideal, but added that the solution is not as simple as starting the season a week earlier in domed stadiums and warm weather cities.
"This calendar is the worst calendar for us in having to make a decision between starting quite early in March or rolling into November, like we decided to do," he said. "Starting early in March is no picnic, either. And I know people always talk about warm weather schedules. Making those warm weather schedules work is more difficult as a political matter than you might imagine. The warm weather cities don't want all those early dates when kids aren't out of school. And it has economic ramifications among the franchises.
"I don't like the idea of playing in November, but knock on wood, I hope we get some good weather and get through it."