Baseball in 2021 faces myriad challenges, up to and including a potential work stoppage if a collective bargaining agreement isn’t reached by the end of the year. Franchise revenues were pounded by 2020’s COVID-shortened season, and as the pandemic continues, the league is working to vaccinate all of its players and personnel.
Meanwhile, the business itself is rapidly evolving, with the industry puzzling out how to capitalize on macro-opportunities including real-estate development and private equity. On a more granular level, the game is looking to implement rules innovative enough to attract new viewers but simple enough to keep longtime fans happy.
This week’s SporticoLive MLB Valuations 2021 featured discussions of all of these pressing issues with a cross-section of baseball leaders—among them MLB commissioner Rob Manfred; MLBPA executive director Tony Clark; team executives from the Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees; agent Scott Boras; and former player and current broadcaster Alex Rodriguez.
The insight provided a live, and lively, complement to Sportico’s franchise valuations package, with a look at baseball’s economic landscape and the forces that will shape the game’s future. Below are some of the highlights:
Boston Red Sox president and CEO Sam Kennedy on ancillary value
Boston Red Sox president and CEO Sam Kennedy (featured in the above clip with Alex Rodriguez) discussed the future possibilities of Major League organizations, focusing on Fenway Sports Group’s expansion over the years. Kennedy said Fenway is consistently looking for opportunities to invest in technology, real estate, media and other sports franchises. “I think you’re going to see a commitment to blue chip properties and getting blue chip management to come in and operate them,” he said.
Alex Rodriguez on how baseball can bring in new fans
Former Yankees shortstop and soon-to-be Minnesota Timberwolves co-owner Alex Rodriguez spoke about how baseball can attract younger fans. One idea: better use of sites like TikTok and Instagram to connect the biggest social media influencers to baseball’s brightest stars. Fans are consuming content differently than when he grew up, Rodriguez said, so MLB must adjust as well by bringing more entertainment to the viewing experience. “As an example, my daughters—who are 16 and 13—they wouldn’t be caught dead watching baseball,” he said. “However, they will watch the Super Bowl because of the halftime show and the commercials.”
MLBPA executive director Tony Clark on the players’ perspective
The executive director of the baseball players’ union, whose year will be taken up with negotiating a new contract for his members, examined issues such as compensation, service time manipulation, the use of analytics and the state of the game. “There’s nothing wrong with the game of baseball that more baseball can’t fix,” he said. “That is not to suggest that we can’t think of ways on how to build on a game that I already believe is perfect.”
Commissioner Rob Manfred on rule changes, vaccines and labor talks
The MLB commissioner elaborated on the difficulties of rule changes and how to improve baseball. Like Clark, Manfred discussed the basic collective bargaining agreement, which expires on Dec. 1, and downplayed the idea that that labor-management differences could result in a work stoppage or lockout. “The very nature of labor relations is kind of ups and downs,” Manfred said. “The trick is getting past areas of conflict and finding a way to make an agreement [and] find common ground.” Additionally, Manfred said roughly 70% of the MLB’s players have been vaccinated, and emphasized that baseball will relax virus protocols when 85% of its players receive the jab.