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Sports betting ‘integrity fees’ are up for negotiation, admits Rob Manfred

  • MLB commisioner willing to accept less than 1% of total wagers in search of cut of new gambling revenues
  • Manfred unconcerned by low attendances due to poor weather but says they have put league in a 'hole'
  • Multiple teams have expressed interest to play in Europe following Yankees-Red Sox series in London

Rob Manfred has reasserted Major League Baseball's demand for a sports betting 'integrity fee' but admits that the figure is up for negotiation.

Both MLB and the National Basketball Association are pushing for states which enact gambling legislation – following the Supreme Court ruling that the federal law limiting sports betting was unconstitutional – to give a percentage of the total handle back to the leagues.

In recent weeks, however, the leagues have backed off from their demand for a 1% stake of all legal bets and are now believed to be pushing for as little as 0.25%. This is something Manfred, the MLB commissioner, indicated on Tuesday.

"We think that the integrity fee – a negotiable number somewhere below 1% at this point – is an appropriate recognition of the fact that the gambling industry is riding our intellectual property, our content, and is presenting a threat to our competition from an integrity perspective so that we're going to have to spend money to prevent that threat from becoming a reality," Manfred told SportBusiness International at the Leaders Week sports business conference in New York.

"It's hard to say that you're going to get all the states on the same number [for an 'integrity fee']. We'd like to get to a pattern that flows through the states so there's some uniformity."

Manfred admits that MLB may have to end its equity investment in fantasy sports site DraftKings as a result of the Supreme Court ruling. "We've had some conversations with them about the circumstances in which we have to step away from that investment," he added. "It depends on some of their business decisions."

Manfred, meanwhile, is unconcerned by low attendances that have been caused partly by poor weather across the US during the start of the season. "I'm optimistic that we will continue to dig out of the hole," he said. "You need to have some appreciation for how horrific April was from a weather perspective – not only did we set a record for the number of games we had to postpone but in 2017 we played two games where the temperature was 40 degrees or below… we played 35 in the month of April.

"It is a hole – but I don't think it's one that it is indicative of a problem with our product, it's a hole that's indicative of the fact that we've had terrible weather in the month of April. We will continue to dig out."

Manfred says MLB has had "tremendous interest" from its teams to play in Europe following the announcement that the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox will play two games at the London Stadium next summer.

The decision to pick the Yankees and Red Sox as the first two teams to play in Europe was deliberate, he noted. "It is important to show our best rivalry as our first outing," he said.

He added that MLB is looking long-term to play in a number of European cities but said it was too early to consider destinations at this time. In regards to which teams geographically would play in Europe in the future, he said: "It is certainly easier for teams playing in the East Coast, certainly either side of the trip, to take them to London. It makes the most sense [due to the shorter time difference]."

This season MLB has exclusively shown games on Facebook on Wednesday afternoons. Manfred refused to divulge ratings but he believes the "experiment" has been a success in its search to reach a younger demographic.

"It's important to be on platforms other than our own that people were going to for other reasons," he said.

"When you have the volume of games that we have as well as games every day, it is easy to give Facebook exclusive games on Wednesday afternoons. If you only have one game a week, it's tougher."

On esports, Manfred conceded that MLB was lagging behind the NBA, which recently launched the NBA2K League, but said it is a sector the league is looking to get involved in.

To read Bob Williams' reporting from days one and two of the Leaders New York conference, click here

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