Baseball Commissioner Discusses Future of Game

Robert Manfred, Major League Baseball commissioner, joined GW community, reporters for wide-ranging discussion on labor, diversity and other issues.

robert manfred
Major League Baseball Commissioner Robert Manfred says he'd like to see the game grow internationally and become more diverse. (Photo by Lisa Helfert)
December 06, 2016

Major League Baseball (MLB) Commissioner Robert Manfred on Monday joined in conversation with a panel of baseball reporters and a George Washington University professor to discuss a wide range of issues and take questions on baseball’s recent labor agreement, the need for more diversity and what he thinks is in store for the game in the future.

Mr. Manfred lauded those involved in reaching a five-year agreement between the MLB and Major League Baseball Players Association, saying the relationship between the parties has evolved over the years and is now one of “labor peace.” He attributed the evolution in part to a change in personnel but also because of the memories of a long, painful labor strike in 1994.

“It was an awful fight,” he recalled. “My youngest daughter was actually born that summer. The first person she called dad was my brother, which was not a good outcome.”

Regarding diversity of athletes who play baseball, Mr. Manfred lamented the competition from football and basketball, saying those sports may offer, for example, better scholarship options, visibility and earnings potential.

“We’re not competitive,” he said. “And we need to fix that.”

One of the ways the MLB is addressing the issue, Mr. Manfred said, is through the Urban Youth Academy, a group of programs across the country that “give kids an opportunity to play in a first-class baseball environment.”

“Our goal is to have one in every major league city,” he said.

Other efforts include Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities, Play Ball initiative and the Baseball Tomorrow Fund. Mr. Manfred said the efforts together have led to an increase in diversity.

Mr. Manfred also said he wants to see baseball reach further around the globe, with “sustained international play” as well as more events and media arrangements that grow the game’s fan base.

Baseball is behind other sports in this regard, he said, but needs to catch up if it will be able to expand into virtual reality, which he said he believes will be the “next big thing” in sports.

“I do think there will be a real market for this virtual reality if we can build some baseball fans,” Mr. Manfred said.

From left to right: GWSB Dean Linda Livingstone, Tim Kurkjian, Robert Manfred, Richard Justice, Mark Hyman and Claire Smith. (Photo by Lisa Helfert)

Panelists included Mark Hyman, GW School of Business (GWSB) assistant teaching professor of management; Richard Justice, columnist; Tim Kurkjian, baseball analyst, host and reporter for ESPN TV; and Claire Smith, coordinating news editor with ESPN in event production. GWSB hosted the event.

GWSB Dean Linda Livingstone, who provided welcoming remarks, said the event shows how GW “engages the world from the nation’s capital” and emphasized the “fabulous” sport management program at the school, saying it prioritizes experiential, global learning opportunities such as on-the-ground research at the Olympics.

Mr. Hyman described Mr. Manfred as an activist commissioner who has a “fan-friendly” approach when it comes to the game.

“This is a wonderful baseball event,” Mr. Hyman said.

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