Rob Manfred Leads MLB Into a Season of Changes
Baseball commissioner talks new rules, changing TV picture as 2023 season gets underway
Major League Baseball’s regular season takes its first swings on March 30, with baseball fans able to access live game telecasts on broadcast, cable and streaming platforms.
With the financial challenges of Bally Sports and Warner Bros. Discovery’s desire to exit the RSN business, the situation with regional sports networks situation remains in flux. The national TV situation is settled, though, with games set for linear channels Fox, ESPN, FS1, TBS and MLB Network, as well as streamers Apple TV Plus and Peacock, which both enter the second season of their multiyear deals.
Games on streaming platforms in particular are expected to help the league reach younger viewers, Lee Berke, a TV sports consultant and CEO of LHB Sports, said.
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“The way to reach the next generation of baseball fans is to be on the screens that they are utilizing, and increasingly that’s services like Apple TV Plus, Peacock and YouTube,” Berke said. “You establish a presence there and you build on those and other services over time.”
B+C Multichannel News recently caught up with Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred to discuss the outlook for linear and streaming TV this season. He also talked about this year’s rule changes — including a pitch timer, larger bases and a ban on defensive shifts — an effort to speed up games and increase excitement on the field. Here are highlights of that interview.
B+C: How does baseball balance its linear television strategy with the need to reach new and potentially younger viewers on the streaming platform?
Rob Manfred: Look, we see broadcast television, particularly for major events, will continue to deliver the biggest reach in terms of your audience and is a crucial component of the overall media strategy. It’s really, really important to have that bedrock of broadcast television.
B+C: Yet you’ve done major streaming deals with Peacock and Apple TV Plus. How have those deals worked for baseball so far?
RM: We feel like the landscape going forward can be summarized in two thoughts. In my view, you want the widest reach for your biggest events, and we just talked about that with broadcast television. But then I think the second piece of it is making sure that people can watch what they want to watch when they want to watch it. I think our streaming experiments move us forward in that regard, and as such we’re going to move forward on
B+C: Is baseball looking to do any additional distribution deals with other streaming services?
RM: No … the Peacock and the Apple TV Plus deals were multiyear deals, so we’ll be back with our same partners this year.
B+C: Overall, what should baseball fans look forward to in terms of watching baseball on television?
RM: I think the big thing for 2023 is the rules changes that we have for this year in terms of the pitch clock and the elimination of the shift. While these are internal and non-broadcaster issues, it is all aimed at making the product better. ■
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R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.