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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

MLB Weighs Media Overhaul As Manfred Deals With DSG Turmoil

  • MLB commissioner Rob Manfred criticizes all the key facets of DSG’s bankruptcy reorganization.
  • Nike takes responsibility at a league owners meeting for its much-maligned MLB uniforms.
Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

Make no mistake: MLB commissioner Rob Manfred (above) is certainly no fan of Diamond Sports Group, the bankrupt parent of Bally Sports. But Manfred and the league are still keeping their powder dry on taking formal action against the regional sports network operator.

Speaking Thursday at the conclusion of owners meetings held this week in New York, Manfred said there has been no decision made yet about whether there will be a formal objection from MLB to DSG’s already-troubled reorganization plan. But to the commissioner, that indecision stems from an uncertainty about what the league would actually be objecting to, particularly in light of DSG’s current carriage standoff with Comcast, the country’s second-largest cable distributor. 

“It’s hard to comment on whether we’re going to object or not, because there is no [reorganization] plan at this point, if you think about it,” Manfred said. “Their whole plan is ‘we’re going to get deals with distributors.’ We know they don’t have one [major provider]. And it’s ‘we’re going to continue with the leagues.’ They don’t have a deal with the NBA. They don’t have a deal with the NHL. And they don’t have a deal with us.”

Manfred said he still anticipates DSG will pay out the rest of its outstanding rights payment obligations to MLB clubs this year. Still, he added, “There’s not much good about Diamond, actually, right now. They remain bankrupt, in case any of you have missed that.”

While DSG is still bankrupt, a new set of crucial dates in the case hit the court docket on Thursday. A prior June 5 deadline to object to the organization plan is now set for July 18. And a confirmation hearing on the plan previously set for June 18 has been shifted to a start of July 29.

“We have determined to move the hearing a few extra weeks to focus on reaching rights agreements on mutually beneficial terms with our league and team partners and to finalize an updated business plan well in advance of the upcoming NBA and NHL seasons,” DSG said.

As that situation continues to unfold, MLB is also actively considering a dramatic, long-term reorganization of its media rights to a nationally focused structure, similar to what the NFL has used for decades. Such a move would avoid thorny entanglements like the one with DSG, but it’s also fraught with complications, both internally and externally from a labor perspective with the MLB Players Association.

“There is a continuing conversation about a national media strategy, a national control of rights,” Manfred said. “That’s obviously a complicated topic,” citing separate but interrelated issues surrounding the assembling of rights and how revenue flows among the teams.

“Right now, we’re really focused on the strategic part, how we respond to the changes in the local media environment in a way that increases our reach and fan access to games. We’d like to get into a model … where there is a frictionless opportunity to watch the game you want to watch,” he said. 

The Swoosh Falls on Its Sword

Representatives from Nike, meanwhile, briefed the assembled MLB team owners about their remediation plans for the much-maligned uniforms from the sports apparel and footwear giant. Those previously announced repairs, many of which are set to take effect next season, include better color matching of road gray uniforms, improved sweat wicking, larger letters on the backs of jerseys, and more customization of players’ uniform pants.

“Let me say it this way: I think they appropriately took responsibility for the issues with respect to the new uniforms and the rollout of those uniforms,” Manfred said.

More Happenings

In other news from the owners meetings:

  • MLB’s initiative to implement an automatic ball-strike system in the major leagues is “unlikely” for next year, due largely to a lack of hoped-for progress with the technology during testing in the minor leagues. 
  • The league continues to be enthused about its growth in attendance, which is tracking at more than 2% so far this season, building off last year’s gain of nearly 10%.
  • Houston, Miami, San Juan, and Tokyo have been officially confirmed as competition sites for the 2026 World Baseball Classic. 
  • Efforts are underway to upgrade Sutter Health Park in Sacramento, which will be the temporary home of the A’s during the 2025–27 seasons. Work includes construction of a new home clubhouse, renovation of the visitor’s clubhouse, setup of additional camera positions for TV broadcast, and installation of a new field surface and club seats.

“There’s a lot going on there,” Manfred said of the Sacramento situation.

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