Expanded safety nets, in-market streaming coming in '16
Manfred announces additions for next season at quarterly Owners Meetings
DALLAS -- Increased safety netting is likely to be in place by the opening of the 2016 season, and a new three-year agreement with FOX will allow fans to watch live in-market streaming on any mobile device, Commissioner Rob Manfred announced as the quarterly Owners Meetings wrapped up on Thursday.
Manfred said a comprehensive report and recommendation on netting will be presented at the next Owners Meetings, to be held in January in Miami.
"In addition to a recommendation on the physical location of nets, there will be a broad fan education component to the program," Manfred said at the Fairmont Dallas. "We'll have more details on that program after the [next] meeting, but there will be a change there."
The issue isn't as cut-and-dried as it may first appear.
"A lot of things seem easy that aren't always," Manfred said. "Obviously, fan safety is paramount for us. We want our fans to be safe in the ballpark. But we also have lots of fans who are very vocal about the fact that they don't like to sit behind nets.
"The toughest issues for us are when we have fans on both sides of the equation. If it's about fans and, let's say, revenue, you always try to err on the side of the fan. But if it's that the fans want 'X' on one side and we're concerned about our fans on the other side, that's a more difficult balance. We're trying to reach an appropriate balance on the topic, recognizing that it's complicated by the fact that not every stadium is laid out exactly the same."
The expansion of live streaming will give fans more access than ever to follow their teams. Currently, the deal covers only the 15 markets in which FOX is the regional sports network: Atlanta, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Texas, Detroit, Kansas City, Los Angeles Angels, Miami, Milwaukee, Minnesota, New York Yankees, Arizona, San Diego, St. Louis and Tampa Bay.
"We have begun and will continue conversations with the rights holders for the other 15 clubs and hope that the in-market streaming program will be comprehensive for the 2016 season," Manfred said.
"The media landscape is changing very, very rapidly. It's important for us to make certain our content is available on as many platforms as possible in ways that fans may want to enjoy our games. And I think this is a huge step forward for the industry. I really do."
MLB has pioneered the technology of live streaming in pro sports, starting with the first live stream in August 2002 and then creating MLB.TV as the first over-the-top (OTT) service. Millions of fans have watched live out-of-market games this way, and Thursday's announcement is the latest in a long line of breakthroughs for fans who want to watch games from anywhere.
With MLB.TV, MLB was the first sports league to stream its entire season (2003); first to wire its venues for TV-quality streaming (2005); first to use adaptive bit-rate streaming (2008); first to stream live 720p HD video (2009); first to stream live games/subscription product to the iPhone (2009); first with live video on connected devices (2009); first to stream live video to a gaming console (2010); first with live games embedded on Facebook & Twitter (2011); and first to make a live video stream embeddable to any site on the Internet (2013).
Other developments the Commissioner discussed included:
• The Pirates and Marlins will play regular-season games in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on May 30 and 31. "That particular series will also be the host for our Roberto Clemente Day celebration [on May 31]; having that in Puerto Rico will make that really special," Manfred said.
• ESPN will nationally televise seven Opening Day games on the first two days of the 2016 regular season, including a Sunday night World Series rematch between the Mets and Royals on April 3. Games for all 10 2015 postseason teams will air on Sunday and Monday.
• The Commissioner addressed slides into second base, a topic that was spotlighted when Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada's leg was broken by Dodgers baserunner Chase Utley during the National League Division Series. "There was an extensive discussion of that issue at the General Managers Meetings, and the Competition Committee made a recommendation that we move ahead with our discussions with the MLBPA with a view toward altering the rules applicable to that type of play," Manfred said.
• Regarding stadium security, in light of recent world events: "We had some conversations on that topic, and I told the owners at the end of that conversation that it will be a focal point for us in January," Manfred said.
• Starting all regularly scheduled games on the last day of the regular season at 3 p.m. ET was tried for the first time this past season. The goal was to keep a team playing a later game from getting an edge by knowing the outcome of a game involving a team it might be competing with for a postseason spot. It was decided the same format will be used in 2016.
• About negotiations to spin off BAM Tech, the highly successful streaming service, Manfred said: "We're really excited about the prospects for BAM Tech. I think, realistically, the timetable is early 2016."
• Manfred also congratulated the Giants for being named the 2015 recipient of the Commissioner's Award for Philanthropic Excellence. The franchise was selected for its Junior Giants program, a free, noncompetitive initiative for boys and girls from ages 5 to 18.
One highlight of the Meetings was a dinner at the George W. Bush Presidential Library on the SMU campus hosted by the former president and his wife, Laura. Bush is a former owner of the Texas Rangers.