Major League clubs have voted to extend Commissioner Rob Manfred’s tenure through Jan. 25, 2029, MLB announced Wednesday.
Manfred, who assumed the Commissioner position in January 2015, will remain in the role for the next five full seasons. The extension comes in the midst of a 2023 season in which the league has seen a surge in attendance, national television viewership and social media engagements after a series of revolutionary rule changes that improved the pace of action.
“At a critical moment in the history of our game, Commissioner Manfred has listened to our fans and worked closely with our players to improve America’s pastime,” John Stanton, chairman and managing partner of the Mariners and the elected presiding officer of the Commissioner re-election process, said in a news release. “Under his leadership, we have been responsive to the fans’ desire for more action and better pace, continued the game’s spirit of innovation, expanded MLB’s role in youth baseball and softball and beyond. The significant momentum that MLB has built reflects his ongoing initiatives that are advancing the game.”
A graduate of Cornell University and Harvard Law School, Manfred joined MLB full-time in 1998 as an executive vice president, overseeing labor relations, economics and league affairs. He was MLB’s chief operating officer prior to succeeding Bud Selig as Commissioner.
“It is an honor to serve the best game in the world and to continue the pursuit of strengthening our sport on and off the field,” Manfred said in the release. “This season, our players are displaying the most vibrant version of our game, and sports fans are responding in a manner that is great for Major League Baseball’s future. Together, all of us in the game will work toward presenting our sport at its finest and broadening its reach and impact for our loyal fans.”
Manfred’s Commissionership has been rooted in the concept of growing the game’s reach locally and globally, with an emphasis on youth participation, an increase of action on the field and bringing MLB games to places they had not been before.
Upon his initial election to the Commissioner position in 2014, Manfred had said that getting more kids involved in the sport was a main priority. His first act as Commissioner-elect was to visit the Little League World Series.
“We want our youth participation programs to be umbrella programs,” he had said at the time. “Black, white, male, female, urban, rural, rich, poor. We want all kinds of kids playing.”
Soon after, the Play Ball initiative, which encourages young people and communities to engage in baseball- or softball-related activities, was born, and it has led to significant participation increases since it was launched. Furthermore, the MLB Develops program broadened the league’s efforts to steer children from underserved and diverse communities toward baseball and softball with events like the Breakthrough Series and Dream Series.
Another key goal Manfred set when he became Commissioner was improving the pace of play, advocating for the concept of the pitch timer and restrictions on the infield shift as early as 2015. After years of careful study, along with input from a committee of players, and more than 8,000 games of Minor League testing, the 2023 adoption of those ideas, along with bigger bases, has produced a reduction in average game times by nearly 30 minutes, a spike in stolen bases and more hits on balls in play.
Paired with the adoption of a more balanced schedule, MLB saw an attendance increase of more than 8% in the first half, with 77% of clubs experiencing an increase in attendance. MLB announced earlier Wednesday that last night’s attendance was the second-best non-holiday Tuesday since Aug. 19, 2008. Additionally, the median age of ticket buyers is now six years younger than 2019. On the digital side, MLB.TV has received 8.4 billion minutes watched, a 9% increase over last year’s all-time record, while logged in users for MLB digital platforms are up 23%, and social media views are up 67%.
Manfred also helped usher in expanded playoffs as part of the 2022 Collective Bargaining Agreement, with six teams now qualifying for the postseason in each league, which has helped bring the excitement of playoff races and playoff baseball to more fan bases. As of July 26, there are 22 teams with a greater than 10% chance of reaching the postseason, according to FanGraphs.
The 2023 season also saw the second installment of the London Series, which began in 2019 and marked the first time MLB games have been played in Europe. The London Series will return in a 2024 schedule that, including Spring Training, will feature games in four countries outside the U.S. and Canada.
In the United States, MLB games have been brought to unique and iconic locales, including the Field of Dreams Game in Dyersville, Iowa., the Little League Classic in Williamsport, Pa., MLB in Omaha at the College World Series site, the Fort Bragg Game in North Carolina, and next year’s Negro Leagues tribute game at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Ala.
More recently, Manfred has cited the improvement of the game’s broadcast reach as a priority. The Diamond Sports Group bankruptcy has expedited the elimination of blackouts in Arizona and San Diego, with MLB recently taking over the regional sports networks for D-backs and Padres broadcasts.
Manfred’s tenure included the unprecedented challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in the shutdown of Spring Training and the creation of a 60-game schedule and expanded postseason format, with rigorous health and safety protocols. MLB became the first pro sports league to start and finish a season in its home markets during the pandemic, with 898 of a possible 900 games played in 2020. At one point, MLB went 59 straight days without a positive test among Major League players.
In terms of community impact, two significant developments during Manfred’s initial tenure were the 2021 creation of Lou Gehrig Day to spread awareness and raise funds for people living with ALS and their families, as well as the 2023 launch of MLB Together, a platform emphasizing baseball’s efforts to make important societal contributions through the power of partnership and community. Under Manfred’s leadership, MLB has continued to enhance and expand on its pillar partnerships with the Jackie Robinson Foundation, Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Stand Up To Cancer.