Rob Manfred will succeed Bud Selig as Major League Baseball’s 10th commissioner after being selected over Boston Red Sox chairman Tom Werner in hours of intense deliberation and seven rounds of voting by team owners.
Manfred, 55, has been an MLB employee since 1998 and began overseeing day-to-day management of the commissioner’s office last year, when he was promoted to chief operating officer less than a week after the 80-year-old Selig said he’d retire.
Manfred will take over a sport that had $8 billion in revenue last year and is riding a two-decade run of labor peace attributable to collective bargaining agreements he negotiated in 2002, 2006 and 2011.
“He’s got the experience and everyone is looking to him to solve the problems baseball has and to expand on its success,” Orioles owner Peter Angelos told reporters yesterday at a Baltimore hotel less than a mile from his team’s stadium. “He’s been at it for 20 years. He graduated with a PhD in baseball. He knows every facet of baseball, he has a way of getting things accomplished, so there are great expectations.”
Manfred was elected unanimously by baseball’s 30 owners on the final vote after failing to get the required 23 in six previous rounds of balloting. Werner, a former television producer, was supported by a group of owners -- led by Jerry Reinsdorf of the Chicago White Sox -- who resisted Selig’s efforts to transition to Manfred.
“What I said to the owners when I came down after the vote was that I didn’t really want to even think about who was on what side of what issue at points in the process,” Manfred said at a news conference last night that followed more than nine hours of meetings. “My commitment to the owners was that I’d work extremely hard day-in and day-out to convince all 30 of them that they had made a great decision.”
Tim Brosnan, MLB’s executive vice president of business, was also a finalist for the job before withdrawing his name from consideration ahead of yesterday’s voting.
Manfred said he spent most of the afternoon watching a game on the MLB Network in a hotel room as owners repeatedly deadlocked in voting. Manfred received 20 of 30 votes in the first round of balloting and then got 22 for a series of rounds, one short of the number needed for election.
“There were differences of opinion, but in the end we came together and did what we always do -- what the majority wanted,” said Selig, whose term ends on Jan. 24, 2015.
Manfred’s ascension follows the path taken by the National Football League, which in 2006 promoted Roger Goodell to succeed Paul Tagliabue after he spent five years as second-in-command, and the National Basketball Association, which groomed assistant commissioner Adam Silver to take over after David Stern’s 30-year run.
Werner, 64, a former executive producer of television programs such as “The Cosby Show,” said Manfred will make a great commissioner.
“Some of the ideas that we talked about to speed up the play of the game, to capture a generation of young fans that I think we need and to make the game more popular internationally, all those ideas got a warm reception and I’ll continue to work on them,” said Werner, who left immediately after the meetings to return to Boston because his daughter is getting married tomorrow.
Manfred, who called the search process thorough and arduous, was MLB’s executive vice president for economics and league affairs before being promoted to COO. He also spent 15 years as vice president of labor relations and led negotiations that helped Selig keep labor peace in a league that had the 1994 World Series canceled because of a players’ strike.
The 2002 pact was the first in more than 30 years that was settled between MLB and its players’ union without a work stoppage. There had been eight work stoppages in baseball over the previous three decades.
“It’s his 20-plus years of experience in labor relations, knowing that’s the backbone of this sport,” said Wayne McDonnell, the academic chairman of sports management at New York University. “Both intimately understanding the business side and also being able to have a collaborative relationship with the players’ association, which has been crucial.”
Before joining MLB, Manfred, a graduate of Cornell University and Harvard Law School, was a partner in the labor and employment law section of Washington-based Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP.
“Owners in large markets, middle markets and smaller markets talked about how he was sensitive to each of their needs,” said St. Louis Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr., who headed the seven-member committee asked to find finalists to replace Selig. “That’s a tremendous aspect of a commissioner to treat everyone equally. It’s not about one club or one group of clubs, it’s about all 30 clubs.”
The former owner of the Milwaukee Brewers, Selig became acting commissioner in 1992 following the resignation of Fay Vincent, and his 22-year tenure is the second longest behind Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who led the sport from 1920 to 1944.
Selig’s stewardship included recovery from a steroid scandal that provided momentum to implement the most comprehensive drug program in professional sports through collective bargaining. It followed an era of performance-enhancing substance abuse that led to congressional inquiries. Selig also oversaw the realignment of teams into three divisions in each league, the creation of interleague play and the expansion of the playoffs, with wild-card entries for top non-division winners.
Major League Baseball’s revenue has more than doubled in the past 11 years, climbing to $8 billion last year from $3.9 billion in 2003, and the sport has television contracts through the 2021 season with Fox Entertainment Group Inc. and Turner Sports Inc. that will pay a total of about $800 million a year.
Franchise values are up -- the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012 sold for a record $2.15 billion -- and MLB Advanced Media is further boosting revenue generation as both a content rights-holder and technology provider. MLBAM, which operates MLB.TV and official websites for the league and its teams while powering more than 400,000 hours of online video, has projected revenue of $800 million this year.
The last decade had all 10 of the most-attended seasons in MLB history and, with the expansion of the playoffs, 26 of the league’s 30 teams have made the postseason in that span.
Even with the sport’s current stable footing, Manfred still faces plenty of challenges in succeeding Selig, whom he called a friend and a mentor.
MLB needs to find ways to re-engage with a younger audience, continue to grow the sport globally, further improve its drug policies and incorporate technological advances for fans at home and in its ballparks, McDonnell said.
Manfred said last night that he’s not yet ready to discuss his priorities as the next commissioner.
“The process provided a great opportunity for the candidates to talk about the major issues they saw in the game,” Manfred said. “And maybe more importantly, it provided a great opportunity to have the clubs talk about where they want to see the game go.”
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