NEW YORK – Major League Baseball owners will try to decide between two league executives and one of their own as the successor to Bud Selig, whose 22-year tenure as commissioner ends in five months.
Owners will cast votes for the sport’s 10th commissioner today in Baltimore, the final business item on the agenda at MLB’s quarterly meetings. Approval is required from 23 of the 30 teams.
I don’t want to make any predictions, Selig, 80, told reporters Tuesday at Baltimore’s Camden Yards. I’m staying out of that business because I don’t know.
The favorite among the three finalists is seen as Rob Manfred, who’s been with MLB since 1998 and has run day-to-day operations of the commissioner’s office since being promoted to chief operating officer last year. The other internal candidate is executive vice president of business Tim Brosnan, who negotiated baseball’s $12.4 billion television deals and oversees sponsorship and licensing.
The long shot of the group is seen as Boston Red Sox Chairman Tom Werner, a former television producer who made hundreds of millions of dollars by selling syndication rights to The Cosby Show. Werner has the support of a small group of owners – led by Jerry Reinsdorf of the Chicago White Sox – who have been opposed to Selig’s efforts to transition to Manfred, according to Wayne McDonnell, the academic chairman of sports management at New York University.
It’s Manfred’s to lose, McDonnell said in a telephone interview. If Manfred loses it, that really means that Jerry Reinsdorf got eight to 10 owners to change their mind. When it really comes down to it, Brosnan and Manfred make all the sense in the world for a variety of reasons, and the game would not suffer if one or the other were to get the position. It would be in really good hands both ways.
The new commissioner will take over a sport that has doubled its revenue from 11 years ago, a two-decade run of labor peace and television contracts in place through 2021.
The voting process hasn’t always gone smoothly. In 1968, after 19 rounds of balloting – mostly along league lines – there was a deadlock between New York Yankees President Mike Burke and San Francisco Giants Vice President Chub Feeney. Months later, owners settled on someone else, unanimously selecting Bowie Kuhn, who was a lawyer for the National League.
Clubs are entitled to vote the way they want to vote, and we’ll see what happens, said Selig, who in May formed a seven-member committee of team owners to help select his successor. If there was something flawed in the process, it would be one thing. But this seven-man committee has done really good work.
Both Manfred, 55, and Brosnan, 56, helped position baseball where it is today. MLB has $8 billion in annual revenue – up from $3.9 billion 11 years ago – and television contracts through the 2021 season with Fox and Turner Sports that will pay a total of about $800 million a year. The sport hasn’t had a strike or lockout since 1994.
Franchise values are up, as shown by the 2012 sale of the Los Angeles Dodgers for $2.15 billion, and the last decade had all 10 of the most-attended seasons in MLB history. With the expansion of the playoffs, 26 of the league’s 30 teams have made the postseason in that span.
Manfred, who was executive vice president for economics and league affairs before being promoted to COO, led negotiations that resulted in new collective bargaining agreements in 2002, 2006 and 2011. He’s developed a strong relationship with the players’ union, though McDonnell said some owners, as a result, may think he won’t be willing to take as aggressive approach in future negotiations.
Selig in 1992 transitioned to commissioner from owner of the Milwaukee Brewers following the resignation of Fay Vincent, and his 22-year tenure is the second-longest behind Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who led the sport from 1920 to 1944.
Werner, who also serves as chairman of Liverpool Football Club of the English Premier League, could follow a similar path.
Werner, 64, was part of the group that bought the Red Sox in 2002 for $660 million, and his tenure with the franchise has included three World Series championships. When asked last month in an interview with the Boston Globe whether he’d want the commissioner’s job, Werner had said no.
Werner also was an owner of the San Diego Padres in the early 1990s.
Selig issued a statement last week saying reports of animosity between him and Reinsdorf, or other owners, regarding the process or finalists are unfounded and unproductive.
I respect the ownership of our 30 franchises and have complete faith that the process will produce an individual that all in baseball will be eager to support, Selig said.
Even with MLB’s record revenue, challenges facing the next commissioner include continuing to grow the sport globally, re-engaging with a younger audience and figuring out how to incorporate technological advances for fans at home and in the ballparks.