Major League Baseball has a lot of problems. The commissioner went out of his way earlier this year to put the best player in the sport on blast for not being enthusiastic about marketing. The stars of the future are being held back in the minor leagues in order to curtail their wages. Attendance is down because people don’t want to pay to see teams that are losing on purpose. The most important games end so late that only diehard fans stay up to see the finish.
Bleak as all of that is, and as much as the baseball establishment loves to tell everyone how bad baseball is, from Rob Manfred’s criticism of Trout all the way down to Hall of Famer John Smoltz prattling through the playoffs on Fox about how much better the game was in his day, there still, somehow, are people willing to pay for the privilege of airing MLB games.
Fox still had three years left on its national rights deal, but on Thursday proudly announced a seven-year extension of its pact, ponying up as much as $5 billion – or more – to keep showing America a sport that is forever said to be dying, but really is doing just fine. Although, since MLB is going to continue to be on Fox, that means Smoltz will still be there, running up what the Los Angeles Times called his “bitch count.” To be fair, it’s not as if past Fox analysts Tim McCarver and Harold Reynolds have been a big hit with the viewing public, either, but that points more to Fox either being inept at hiring, or Fox being excellent at hiring people who make Joe Buck look good (see: Aikman, Troy).
It’s not just Fox continuing a broadcast relationship with MLB, though, as Thursday also brought the announcement of a three-year streaming deal with DAZN (“Da Zone”) – reportedly for $100 million per season to not show live games, but a weeknight whip-around show somewhere between what NFL RedZone does on Sundays and what MLB Network does with “MLB Tonight” most nights during the season when not showing live games. That’s an extra $3 million or so per season for each major league team, not bad for allowing someone to present existing content in a different way.
Getting these deals done is exactly why Manfred got a five-year extension of his own deal, with a unanimous vote of owners in support. It’s a good reminder that the commissioner’s job, now as ever, is not to be some kind of fair-minded individual with the best interests of the game at heart – as the position has been sold for the past 98 years. The job is to make sure that baseball is as profitable as possible, which is why it’s fine for Manfred to go after Mike Trout, fine for it to be standard MLB practice to mess with young players’ service time, fine for half the league to not give a rip about winning games, and fine for World Series games to routinely end after midnight in the east. When billions of dollars are locked in for the next decade, that’s all a commissioner needs.