“Give me the bad news first” – Anonymous
Thankfully, I am not Bud Selig. That goes for both you as a fan, and I as one that wouldn’t want that responsibility. Still, I get questions (seemingly daily) about what is deemed to be good and bad about how baseball is administered. The answers are my opinion, but given how often I’m asked, maybe it’s time to roll them out here for all to discuss.
The say it’s always good to get the bad news first, so today I’m rolling out some areas I’d like to see MLB work on. In a bit of reflection, I’m finding this harder to do today than a decade ago. Still…
1) Fix the Blackout Policy – Those at the league reading this are surely saying, “Not this again.” I’ve been pounding my head on the desk for so long on this topic I feel like I’m flogging a dead horse. Still, the cost—both literal and figurative—on consumers is enough to warrant talking about it. The league needs to address the issue of their local and national blackout policy. It’s arcane and restrictive in terms of making their product (baseball games via television, internet, and mobile devices) available to all that want to watch it. It makes no sense that nearly all of the Pacific Northwest is hit with a blackout policy due to granting a massive swath to the Mariners. Someone in Boise, Idaho isn’t going to get up and drive to Seattle because, by golly, the game is blacked out. Here’s the solution: keep the territories for the need of the clubs. For blackouts, apply something similar to what the NFL does (a radius around the ballpark) to drive fans away from their set-tops and into the ballpark. Better yet, give access to anyone that wants it for a fee. If it’s within a blackout area, add an extra charge to allow “in market” viewing.
2) Create a “G4 Fund” for Ballpark Development – It’s worked for the NFL, and now that MLB is seeing the central revenue pie growing, create a “G4” type fund. For those that aren’t up on this, the NFL has created a pool of funds that those that are looking to develop new stadiums. The reason MLB needs this is simple: they’ve drank from the public taxpayers’ well too heavily. One can argue whether there should be any public dollars going to MLB—a private enterprise. At the very least, cover some of this within your own house, baseball.
3) Figure Out How to Deal with Local TV Rights Revenues Overturning the Economic Disparity Cart – I’m not sure how baseball deals with this, but it’s something that is expanding and with it, creating a wider chasm between the haves and the have-nots in baseball: local media rights deals. This used to be something where everyone pointed to the Red Sox and Yankees and bemoaned how just those two AL East teams were at far greater economic advantage. Now, with the Rangers, Angels, and soon-to-be, Dodgers landing television deals that dwarf what has been garnered prior, some clubs have far more resources to use than others. Some may say, this is the way it should be; some markets simply have an advantage over others. Some will say that a league is only as strong as its weakest link. If MLB wishes to see parity in the standings, this explosion of television contract money has to be addressed in some capacity. Or, maybe it won’t. After all, it’s not like there haven’t been local television deals going on with the league for decades. The difference is amount of money in the deals. Clubs with small television territories and/or small Designated Market Areas (DMA) are not going to garner deals of the magnitude we are currently witnessing.
4) Work to Market the Game Better – Baseball is getting better at this, but it needs some help. Part of MLB’s marketing problem is the design of the game itself. The game is slower and it’s timeframes are undefined (read: it ain’t over, till it’s over). But, expanding upon programming such as Showtime’s “The Franchise” would help grow the game beyond its core audience. The difficulty with “The Franchise” is that it’s on a subscription tier of television that not everyone has access to. If you can get FOX, ESPN, or TBS to do like programming, it would help show the personalities of the players to a broader audience.
5) Get the “A’s to San Jose” Matter Sorted Out – Some will ask why the Rays aren’t in this list, but the A’s situation has been languishing for a longer period of time, and is in need of a decision. Let Lew Wolff and John Fisher have their vote at the owners meetings next month. One way or the other, they’ll at least know where they are truly at so they can sell or relocate. This is one issue that’s been hanging out there for far too long.
Part Two on the good in MLB will run tomorrow
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Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He writes for Baseball Prospectus and is a contributor to Forbes SportsMoney blog.. He is available as a freelance writer. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network (select his name in the dropdown provided).
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