MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred Discusses Collusion Investigation, Las Vegas Expansion, Crypto Crash After Owners Meetings

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred does not believe the Mets and Yankees colluded in free agent discussions.  (Photo by Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred does not believe the Mets and Yankees colluded in free agent discussions. (Photo by Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred addressed a small group of media in New York City on Thursday afternoon following this week’s owners’ meetings.

He announced that the Texas Rangers will host the 2024 All-Star Game at Globe Life Field in Arlington and that the Philadelphia Phillies will host the 2026 game celebrating the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. (The location of the 2025 All-Star has not yet been decided.) Beyond that, here’s what he had to say on a range of topics:

Investigation of collusion between the Mets and Yankees

On November 3, SNY reported that, according to Mets sources, the Mets would not make this offseason attack on Aaron Judge in free agency because owners Steven Cohen and Hal Steinbrenner have a “mutually respectful relationship, and don’t expect to disrupt it.” with a high-profile bidding war.” The Athletic reported Wednesday that those comments had led to an investigation by MLB into whether they constitute conspiracy to suppress Judge’s market.

Manfred initially objected, citing his lack of involvement in the investigation, but when he insisted on how fraught conspiracy allegations are – especially so close to a controversial labor dispute – he offered unequivocal assurances that there was no impropriety.

“I have every confidence that the clubs have behaved in a manner consistent with the agreement. You know, this was based on a newspaper report,” he said. to demonstrate to the MLBPA that this is not a problem, and I am sure that will be the outcome.”

Declare FTX’s fallout bankrupt after signing partnership with MLB

In June 2021, MLB announced that it had forged “the first-ever partnership between a professional sports league and a cryptocurrency exchange” with FTX. As of the 2021 All-Star Game, FTX became the first sponsor company to advertise on umpire uniforms. The agreement also granted FTX worldwide marketing rights using MLB logos, and through an agreement with the MLBPA allowed FTX to use player highlights in the creation of their content.

“This is an incredibly exciting announcement for everyone in Major League Baseball as we partner with a global leader in the early stages of their incredible growth,” MLB Chief Revenue Officer Noah Garden said in the press release at the time.

Last week, FTX was declared bankrupt and CEO Sam Bankman-Fried resigned amid investigations by state and federal authorities. There are concerns about specific misconduct — leveraging clients’ investments to fund ventures of another company that FTX had a relationship with — but the entire incident highlights the inherent lack of regulation in the cryptocurrency space.

“Obviously the FTX development was a bit shocking,” Manfred said Thursday.

When asked if this would give MLB a break from partnering with cryptocurrency companies in the future, Manfred said they have been “cautious about the scope of involvement with crypto companies.”

“We’ve been very religious about staying away from coins themselves as opposed to more corporate-based sponsorships,” he said. “We think that was wise, especially given the way things unfolded. We will, I think, proceed with caution in the future.”

A class action lawsuit has been filed against celebrities who promoted FTX, lending credibility to what turned out to be a deceptive venture.

“Part of the scheme employed by the FTX entities involved using some of the biggest names in sports and entertainment — such as these defendants — to raise money and drive U.S. consumers to invest,” the court said. lawsuits.

Among the athletes named as defendants is MLB two-way star Shohei Ohtani. In response, Manfred offered only that MLB not be named in the lawsuit — though the league is reportedly discussing its course of action with legal advisers — and said of the individual players involved in the fallout “they are taking advice from people other than us . on these topics.”

But don’t expect FTX patches on uniforms in 2024. “I think that’s probably a good bet,” Manfred said.

Streaming rights, RSNs and the future of watching baseball games

Baseball fans have repeatedly shared their frustration with access to MLB games on streaming services — most notably the local blackouts on MLB.tv. (It was the No. 1 concern that Reddit users wanted to pass on to Manfred during the World Series.) This past season, the league debuted a series of partnerships with streaming services — including Apple TV and Peacock — to broadcast weekly national games. But navigating the broader shift from cable to streaming while still prioritizing the lucrative RSN (regional sports network) deals has proven to be a complicated multi-year process for baseball.

Manfred said a “long report” on the RSN landscape was made to owners this week

“I think the future from our perspective,” he said, “is there’s a remnant of the cable bundle with real economic value that we need to be aggressive to help survive to maintain that economy. Equally important is that we need to develop digital products that reach people who have opted out of the bundle and who currently don’t have access to our game.”

That all goes without saying. More interestingly, Manfred pointed out that the deals with Peacock and Apple were just the beginning, that the interest on both sides wouldn’t have been there if they stuck with one weekly game pack.

Those kinds of services, “we see that as part of the path forward in terms of delivering the game to people when they want to watch it where they want to watch it, regardless of whether they’re in or out of the bundle,” he said.

As for MLB.tv, Manfred said it had nearly 3 million subscribers this season. He acknowledged that the exclusivity agreements with RSNs prevented them from handling blackouts before. But he said encouragingly that “part of the evolution of this landscape, I believe, will be a relaxation of that exclusivity and allow us to deliver those kinds of digital products and markets.”

As always: state of the Rays, A’s and expansion

After previous years’ owner meetings had bombed out that the Tampa Bay Rays would pursue a two-city plan, which was ultimately overturned, this year was relatively uneventful in terms of the ongoing stadium woes in St. Petersburg and Oakland and the related issue of any extension.

“I think Tampa and the A’s need to be fixed,” Manfred said. “And then, depending on how that all lands, we have a more realistic opportunity to assess if and where to expand.”

Las Vegas has become a “more attractive market” over time, he said — at least a point of leverage in the Oakland A’s ongoing quest to raise public funds for a new stadium. Rays owner Stu Sternberg, meanwhile, “describe[d] ongoing talks in the Tampa Bay area.”

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