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

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred doesn’t believe the Mets and Yankees colluded with each other in free agent talks. (Photo by Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred spoke to a small group of media Thursday afternoon in New York after the owners’ meetings concluded this week.

He announced that the Texas Rangers will host the 2024 All-Star Game at Globe Life Field in Arlington and the Philadelphia Phillies will host the 2026 game to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. (The location of the 2025 All Star has yet to be decided.) Beyond that, here’s what he had to say on a range of topics:

Collusion investigation between Mets and Yankees

On November 3, SNY reported that, according to Mets sources, the Mets would not make a run at Aaron Judge in free agency this season because owners Steven Cohen and Hal Steinbrenner have a “relationship of mutual respect and don’t expect to overturn it with a high-profile bidding war.” The Athletic reported Wednesday that those comments had prompted an investigation by MLB into whether they constituted collusion to suppress Judge’s purchase.

Manfred initially demurred, citing his lack of involvement in the investigation, but when pressed about how serious the allegations of collusion are—especially so close to a contentious labor struggle—he offered categorical assurances that there was no impropriety.

“I am absolutely confident that the clubs behaved in a way that was consistent with the agreement. You know, this was based on a newspaper report,” he said. “We will put ourselves in a position to credibly demonstrate to the MLBPA that this is not an issue. I’m sure that will be the result.”

Fallout from FTX which filed for bankruptcy after signing a partnership with MLB

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

“This is an incredibly exciting announcement for everyone at 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 filed for bankruptcy and CEO Sam Bankman-Fried resigned amid investigations by state and federal authorities. There are concerns about specific wrongdoing — leveraging customer investments to finance operations of another company with which FTX had a relationship — but the whole incident highlights the inherent lack of regulation in the cryptocurrency space.

“Obviously, the development of FTX has been a little hectic,” Manfred said Thursday.

Asked if this would give MLB a break from working with cryptocurrency companies in the future, Manfred said they were “cautious about the scope of involvement with cryptocurrency companies.”

“We’re really religious about staying away from the coins themselves unlike most corporate-based sponsorships,” he said. “We think it was prudent especially given the way things turned out. I believe we will 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 fake 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 funds and induce American consumers to invest,” the lawsuits state.

Among the athletes named as defendants is MLB two-way star Shohei Ohtani. In response, Manfred offered only that MLB was not named in the lawsuit — though the league is reportedly discussing its course of action with legal counsel — and said of the individual players involved in the fallout “they’re getting advice from others besides us on these issues”.

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

Streaming rights, RSNs and the future of watching baseball games

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

Manfred said there was a “lengthy report” on the RSN’s landscape that was made to the owners this week

“I think the look forward from our perspective,” he said, “is that there’s a remainder of the cable bundle that has real economic value, and we have to be aggressive to help survive to preserve those economics. Equally important, we need to develop digital products that target people who have opted out of the pack, who currently don’t have access to our game.”

All of this is more or less self-explanatory. More interestingly, Manfred mentioned that the deals with Peacock and Apple were just the beginning, that the interest wouldn’t be there on either side if they were to remain as individual weekly game packages.

These kinds of services, “we see as part of the way forward in terms of delivering the game to people when they want to watch it where they want to watch it, whether it’s in or out of the package,” he he said.

As for MLB.tv, Manfred said it had nearly 3 million subscribers this season. He acknowledged that exclusivity agreements with RSNs have prevented them from dealing with blackouts in the past. But he said, encouragingly, that “part of the evolution of that landscape, I believe, is going to be loosening that exclusivity and putting us in a position to offer that kind of digital product and marketplace.”

As always: state of the rays, A and extension

After owners’ meetings in previous years included the bombshell that the Tampa Bay Rays would pursue a two-city plan, which was ultimately scrapped, this year has been relatively light-hearted regarding the lingering woes at ballparks in St. Petersburg and Oakland and the potential extension.

“I think Tampa and the A’s should be resolved,” Manfred said. “And then depending on how that all lands, we’ll have a more realistic opportunity to evaluate whether and where to expand.”

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *