Rob Manfred talks about bat flips, social media and baseball’s demographic challenges


Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred spoke with AdWeek about the promotion and marketing of baseball, particularly to younger demographics. There’s nothing groundbreaking there but it’s interesting to hear Manfred talk about it if, for no other reason, than it’s impossible to imagine Bud Selig ever talking about this stuff in great detail.

All in all Manfred comes off pretty sensible about such things. Asked about the “play the game the right way” debate over bat flips and whatnot, Manfred correctly notes that the players are the ones who decide how the game is to be played, not the league and, specifically, not retired players. Take this as the most polite “thanks for your comments Goose Gossage and Mike Schmidt, but who cares?” opinion you’ll ever see.

More substantively Manfred talks about platforms for rights deals and things and acknowledges that, yes, cord cutting is an issue. It’s one he thinks MLB is well-positioned to survive, however, given MLB Advanced Media and its streaming infrastructure. He was not asked how anyone who actually cuts the cord is ever supposed to be able to stream their local team, however, given that such streaming is still limited to those with cable subscriptions. That remains the single biggest question facing baseball broadcasting today (see below for more on that). Oh, and by the way, Manfred also says that it’s not impossible to imagine companies like Facebook, Amazon or Google as rights partners one day. How that would work is anyone’s guess but he used the term “aggregators” which opens up a number of interesting questions about how one could consume baseball on those platforms.

The one somewhat unsatisfying thing Manfred said came in response to a question about the demographic challenges baseball faces. Specifically: how can baseball get younger fans?

Manfred mentions SnapChat and Twitter and stuff. That’s not really an answer. Those are mediums to deliver certain very small parts of the baseball experience, not means of large scale fan-building. As we’ve noted here in the past, making games themselves more accessible — not players goofing off or MLB engaging in subtle brand-partner messaging — is what will bring in younger fans. Force them to sign up for a $150 cable bundle and you’re not going to get as many young people as you used to.

Which means: maybe acknowledge the link between your streaming and your demographic challenges and you’ll get someplace.