Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred told an audience at NYU Wednesday night that decreased participation in youth baseball and the changing media landscape are baseball’s biggest problems, and that baseball is keen on expanding into Mexico in an effort to draw more Hispanic fans in the United States to the game.
With presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaking at a rally just outside the building, in Washington Square Park, Manfred answered questions from moderator Arthur R. Miller, an NYU professor and the associate dean and director of the Tisch Institute for Sports Management, Media and Business.
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Manfred told Miller and the audience that baseball is working hard to grow youth participation because “the single biggest determinant of fan ability is whether you played as a kid.’’
He said the biggest challenge to baseball is not lacrosse, soccer or some other sport, but electronics.
“When kids don’t play a sport, at all, and instead what they’re doing is messing around . . . with electronic devices, as opposed to athletics,’’ he said, waving his smartphone around. “We are working really hard in the youth space to make sure that the game gets passed on to the next generation.’’
He said baseball has benefited greatly from the current cable television model, where channels are bundled in packages, in many cases forcing non-sports fans to pay for regional sports networks they don’t watch. That will change soon, with consumers having more control over what they choose to watch on their televisions. Major League Baseball is well positioned, he said, because it is ahead of the game in delivering its programming via streaming video.
Asked about MLB’s opening an office recently in Mexico City, Manfred made it clear he is hoping Major League Baseball soon will expand into Mexico.
“We think if we could play regularly in Mexico, it would help us improve our relationship with the Mexican professional leagues,’’ he said. “If we could get a little freer flow of talent out of Mexico, combined with a team playing there every day, we think we’d do much better with the Hispanic market here in the United States.’’