Less than a month before Opening Day, the USC Sports Business Institute enlisted the help of Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred for a discussion on the game’s business from a regional, national and global perspective.
David Carter, executive director of the SBI and an associate professor of clinical management and organization at the USC Marshall School of Business, moderated the Commissioners’ Series event. A crowd of 300 students, alumni and local sports business professionals were on hand March 9 to listen to a wide-ranging conversation including if and when Los Angeles residents will ever be able to watch the Dodgers on TV again.
Manfred became the 10th commissioner of MLB at the beginning of 2015 after nearly 30 years working with the league in various capacities, taking over from Bud Selig, the first commissioner to participate in SBI’s annual series in 2008.
“I think it speaks volumes to the strength of the Marshall School and university that a commissioner will come out on his own dime, on his own time and spend some time with us,” Carter said. “Most people don’t have an appreciation for how dynamic a job it is, the extent to which they have to report to the owners and how they have to be agile across a variety of topics.”
The new way to play
Manfred spoke about how baseball is trying to appeal to younger fans in light of a recent report that the median age of MLB’s television viewers last season was 56. The trick to combating this metric, he said, is technology.
MLB’s At Bat app was opened 8 million times a day during the season, and the average age of users is 30. Meanwhile, MLB is launching a partnership with Snapchat, while games televised by Fox will be streamed online.
“We’re trying to make sure that baseball is available on the platforms that young people generally use as their source of news and entertainment,” Manfred said.
Daily fantasy sports have emerged as another way to engage younger people, he said. MLB has a partnership with and small ownership stake in DraftKings. The industry has faced legal challenges at the state level over the past year, however.
“At the end of the day, my own view is that there will be some regulation in this space, but that daily fantasy is not going anywhere,” he said.
The big local issue of interest is when Dodgers fans will again be able to watch their team on TV, which they currently cannot outside of games broadcast by Time Warner, which owns the rights and is embroiled in a three-year battle with other distributors. Manfred said the league has tried to talk to the parties involved to encourage them to find a resolution but doesn’t have the leverage to force one.
“The distribution of Dodgers games is a really important issue to us as a league,” Manfred said. “It’s an iconic franchise in a huge market, and this dispute has persisted a very long time. The rub is we’re at least twice removed from having a seat at the table.”
The business of sports
Manfred gave advice to students interested in working with an MLB team. He praised USC’s approach to sports management centered around the SBI while saying he’s not a fan of sports management degree programs, per se, which he believes are too narrowly focused.
“Get the best education you can possibly get that is applicable across business,” Manfred said. “I think the trick is to get good at something first, then network into sports if that’s really what your goal is.”