Baseball Looks Inside to Find a Successor to Bud Selig

Major League Baseball owners are deciding on whether MLB Chief Operating Officer Rob Manfred or Boston Red Sox Chairman Tom Werner will succeed Bud Selig, whose 22-year tenure as commissioner ends in five months.

Tim Brosnan, MLB’s executive vice president of business, withdrew from consideration for the post today at the league’s quarterly meetings in Baltimore, CBS Sports reported.

Owners have been meeting for more than seven hours today, with much of the focus on determining who will be Selig’s replacement. In one round of balloting, Manfred received votes from 22 of 30 owners, one short of the number required for election, according to CBS Sports, which cited unidentified people familiar with the situation. .

“I don’t want to make any predictions,” Selig, 80, told reporters two days ago at Baltimore’s Camden Yards. “I’m staying out of that business because I don’t know.”

Manfred, who’s been with MLB since 1998, has run day-to-day operations of the commissioner’s office since being promoted to chief operating officer last year.

Werner is a former television producer who made hundreds of millions of dollars by selling syndication rights to “The Cosby Show.” Werner has the support of a small group of owners -- led by Jerry Reinsdorf of the Chicago White Sox -- who have been opposed to Selig’s efforts to transition to Manfred, according to Wayne McDonnell, the academic chairman of sports management at New York University.

Top Candidate

“It’s Manfred’s to lose,” McDonnell said in a telephone interview. “If Manfred loses it, that really means that Jerry Reinsdorf got eight to 10 owners to change their mind.”

Brosnan declined to comment to reporters when asked about withdrawing from the group of three finalists.

The new commissioner will take over a sport that has doubled its revenue from 11 years ago, a two-decade run of labor peace and television contracts in place through 2021.

The voting process hasn’t always gone smoothly. In 1968, after 19 rounds of balloting -- mostly along league lines -- there was a deadlock between New York Yankees President Mike Burke and San Francisco Giants Vice President Chub Feeney. Months later, owners settled on someone else, unanimously selecting Bowie Kuhn, who was a lawyer for the National League.

“Clubs are entitled to vote the way they want to vote, and we’ll see what happens,” said Selig, who in May formed a seven-member committee of team owners to help select his successor. “If there was something flawed in the process, it would be one thing. But this seven-man committee has done really good work.”

Doubling Revenue

Manfred, 55, helped position baseball where it is today. MLB has $8 billion in annual revenue -- up from $3.9 billion 11 years ago -- and 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. The sport hasn’t had a strike or lockout since 1994.

Franchise values are up, as shown by the 2012 sale of the Los Angeles Dodgers for $2.15 billion, and the last decade had all 10 of the most-attended seasons in MLB history. With the expansion of the playoffs, 26 of the league’s 30 teams have made the postseason in that span.

Manfred, who was executive vice president for economics and league affairs before being promoted to COO, led negotiations that resulted in new collective bargaining agreements in 2002, 2006 and 2011. He’s developed a strong relationship with the players’ union, though McDonnell said some owners, as a result, may think he won’t be willing to take as aggressive approach in future negotiations.

“What this election is about is whether the owners are going to try to be tougher on the players’ union, as Reinsdorf and Werner are trying to suggest baseball should be,” Fay Vincent, Selig’s predecessor as commissioner, said today on Bloomberg Television.

Selig’s Transition

Selig in 1992 transitioned to commissioner from owner of the Milwaukee Brewers following Vincent’s resignation and his 22-year tenure is the second longest behind Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who led the sport from 1920 to 1944.

Werner, who also serves as chairman of English Premier League soccer club Liverpool, could follow a similar path.

Werner, 64, was part of the group that bought the Red Sox in 2002 for $660 million, and his tenure with the franchise has included three World Series championships. When asked last month in an interview with the Boston Globe whether he’d want the commissioner’s job, Werner said no. Werner also was an owner of the San Diego Padres in the early 1990s.

Selig issued a statement last week saying reports of animosity between him and Reinsdorf, or other owners, regarding the process or finalists is “unfounded and unproductive.”

“I respect the ownership of our 30 franchises and have complete faith that the process will produce an individual that all in baseball will be eager to support,” Selig said.

Future Challenges

Even with MLB’s record revenue, challenges facing the next commissioner include continuing to grow the sport globally, re-engaging with a younger audience and figuring out how to incorporate technological advances for fans at home and in the ballparks.

Larry Baer, president of the San Francisco Giants, said a key to continuing baseball’s growth will be taking the game to new audiences by connecting “in a way that is relevant to their lifestyle.” By that, he means relying heavily on social media to reach fans who aren’t at the ballpark or sitting in front of a TV when games are played.

“Consumption of media by somebody 12 years old or 14 years old or 21 years old is way different than people in their 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s,” Baer said in a June interview. “And we have to put a finger on the pulse of how they consume media.”

Advanced Media

MLB Advanced Media is a significant platform for the sport, with revenue projected to grow to $800 million this year. MLBAM operates MLB.TV and official websites for the league and its teams, runs websites outside baseball, is involved in app development and will power more than 400,000 hours of live online video this year for MLB as well as ESPN, CBS Sports and Turner. It also provides wireless access and phone connectivity at ballparks and owns, the primary ticketing provider for roughly half the league’s teams.

Baseball’s 162-game season makes it an ideal sport for the Internet, said Baer, who was said to be among the candidates to succeed Selig early in the process.

“Because of all the games, the history and the statistics, you’ve got the best Internet sport on the planet,” Baer said. “You’ve just got to understand how to exploit it.”

Baer said MLB has to focus on children in the U.S., making baseball relevant to kids 6-years-old and up, and expand its fan base beyond North America.

MLB’s 2014 season opened with a two-game series in Sydney. Four seasons since 2000 have opened in Tokyo, and the 1999 season opener was in Monterrey, Mexico. Brosnan, who has been an MLB employee since 1991, has overseen many of the sport’s global efforts.

Manfred, though, has been Selig’s second-in-command and his ascension to commissioner would follow a similar path taken in the National Football League and National Basketball Association. Manfred’s involvement in labor negotiations helped keep labor peace in a league that had the 1994 World Series canceled because of a players’ strike.

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