New Major League Baseball (MLB) commissioner Rob Manfred has outlined his vision to increase participation in the sport amongst America’s youth and modernise the game without impacting its traditions, as he stepped into the position on Sunday.
Former MLB chief operating officer Manfred was elected in August and was approved for a five-year term as commissioner in November. He succeeds long-time commissioner Bud Selig and outlined his plans for the league in an open letter to fans published on MLB.com.
The change at the top of MLB comes at a time when baseball’s US television ratings are falling due to concerns the game is too slow to interest the youth market. Games currently average at 30 minutes slower than three decades ago, clocking in at just over three hours in duration.
Manfred said he plans to focus on promoting the game in economically deprived areas and partnering with youth leagues to produce a new generation of fans and players. “Giving more kids the opportunity to play will inspire a new generation to fall in love with baseball just as we did when we were kids,” he wrote.
Manfred said he also wanted to explore ways to modernise the game. “Another priority for me is to continue to modernise the game without interfering with its history and traditions,” he said. “Last season's expanded instant replay improved the game's quality and addressed concerns shared by fans and players. We made a dramatic change without altering the game's fundamentals.
“I look forward to tapping into the power of technology to consider additional advancements that will continue to heighten the excitement of the game, improve the pace of play and attract more young people to the game.”
In terms of MLB’s global profile, Manfred told the New York Times newspaper that an international draft is inevitable because it is the most “efficient way to promote competitive balance.” International recruitment is currently conducted on a year-round basis – a system that tends to favour the wealthier clubs.
Manfred also dismissed talk of expansion in the immediate future. MLB currently has 30 teams and last expanded by adding the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Rays in 1998.
Selig led the MLB industry from September 1992, first as chairman of the Major League Executive Council. In July 1998, he was officially elected as the ninth commissioner in baseball history and will assume the title of commissioner emeritus following his retirement.