MLB commissioner Rob Manfred discusses collusion investigation, Las Vegas expansion, crypto crash after owners meeting

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred doesn’t believe the Mets and Yankees have gone head-to-head in free agent talks. (Photo by Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred addressed a small group of media Thursday afternoon in New York City following the conclusion of 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 the Philadelphia Phillies will host the 2026 game to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. (The 2025 All-Star site is still undecided.) Also, here’s what he had to say on a range of topics:

An investigation into collusion between the Mets and the Yankees

On Nov. 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 mutually respectful relationship, and they don’t expect that to engage in a high-profile bidding war.” The Athletic reported Wednesday that those comments prompted an investigation by MLB into whether they amounted to collusion to block Judge’s deal.

Manfred initially balked, citing his lack of involvement in the investigation, but when pressed about the extent of collusion allegations – especially so close to a contentious labor fight – he offered an unequivocal assurance that there was no impropriety. .

“I am convinced 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 declares bankruptcy after signing partnership with MLB

In June 2021, MLB announced that it had “created the first-ever partnership between a professional sports league and a cryptocurrency exchange” with FTX. Beginning with the 2021 All-Star Game, FTX was the first sponsor company to advertise on referee uniforms. The agreement also granted FTX global marketing rights through the use of MLB logos, and through an agreement with the MLBPA, allowed FTX to use player highlights when creating content.

“This is an extremely 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 news release at the time.

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

“Obviously, the development of FTX was a little bit brave,” Manfred said Thursday.

When asked if this would give MLB pause in future partnerships with cryptocurrency companies, Manfred said they were “careful about the scope of engagement with crypto companies.”

“We’ve been very religious about staying away from medals themselves compared to more company-based sponsorships,” he said. “We think that was prudent especially given the way things turned out. We will proceed cautiously, I think, in the future.”

Class-action lawsuits have been brought against celebrities who promoted FTX, lending credibility to what was otherwise a great venture.

“Part of the scheme employed by the FTX Entities involved using some of the biggest names in sports and entertainment – like these Defendants – to raise money and invest in American consumers ,” the law says.

Athletes named as defenders include two-way MLB star Shohei Ohtani. In response, Manfred offered that MLB was not named in the lawsuit – although the league is discussing its actions with legal counsel – and said of the individual players involved in the outcome that “they take advice from people other than us. these matters.”

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

Streaming rights, RSNs and the future of watching baseball games

Baseball fans have repeatedly shared their frustrations with accessing MLB games on streaming services — specifically, the local blackouts on MLB.tv. (It was the No. 1 concern Reddit users wanted to voice to Manfred during the World Series.) Last season, the series debuted partnerships with streaming services — including Apple TV and Peacock – to broadcast weekly national games. But the broader transition from cable to streaming is a complex multi-year process for football while still prioritizing the lucrative RSN (regional sports network) markets.

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

“I think the outlook from our perspective,” he said, “is that there are remnants of the cable bundle that have real economic value that we need to be aggressive about helping to preserve that economic survival. Equally important, we need to develop digital products that will be given to people who have opted out of the deal and currently don’t have access to our game.”

All that goes without saying. More interestingly, Manfred pointed out that the deals with Peacock and Apple were just the beginning, that there would be no interest on either side if they were to remain individual weekly game packages.

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, 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 admitted that the exclusivity agreements with RSNs had prevented them from facing blackouts before. But he said, encouragingly, that “part of the evolution of this landscape, I believe, is to release that exclusivity and to be able to deliver that kind of product and digital market.”

As usual: state of the rays, A and expansion

After owners’ meetings in previous years had resulted in the Tampa Bay Rays pursuing a two-city plan, which was ultimately canceled, this year was very different in terms of stadium woes in St. Louis. Petersburg and Oakland and the related issue thereof. eventually expand.

“I think Tampa and the A’s need to be settled,” Manfred said. “And then, depending on how everything lands, we’ll have a more realistic opportunity to assess whether and where expansion is possible.”

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

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