MLB owners warn of summer on ice after announcing labor battle

How has this past season shaped your thinking in regard to the challenges for the league?

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred: As the seasons progress and with the increased competition for television advertising dollars that don’t cover all the increased travel that’s taking place, and with the likelihood that in the next CBA as well as a plan after that that we get to a stage where television advertising costs are falling relative to the production costs of playing in the National League compared to playing in the American League – where is the real value of the competition? And I think that’s where you will see a more immediate engagement on the part of management to look at what’s happening in our fan base around our venues, obviously including the changes in the travel that we have, and look for ways to incentivize and enhance the fan experience here.

Tony Clark, executive director of MLB Players Association: These numbers don’t reflect the rate of decline in attendance, they don’t reflect the credit card decline in ticket purchase rates. At the end of the day, we have got to figure out how to engage with our fans in a way that keeps them coming back. And to do that requires capital and programs that help them do that. We’ve done great work at the club level already – we’ve got to take that model and we’ve got to see if there are other actions that we need to be able to take at the league level to help in keeping the fan base engaged and engaged in baseball.

In each of the previous lockout cycles there have been moves by club owners to protect the luxury tax threshold. Is there a point in time where you could see Major League Baseball one day be free agent-free?

Manfred: I don’t think it’s helpful for us to speculate. We have to see how this season ends up.

Clark: I haven’t seen much progress on addressing this year’s threat of cancellation, so I don’t want to speculate.

How do you encourage fans who now may be either giving up on baseball or feel like the game has lost touch to at least come back to the game again?

Manfred: I think a lot of it is figuring out how to ensure a good experience for our fans – how to go about engaging fans in a way that keeps them engaged in the game.

Clark: Of course it’s difficult because there’s been so much change over the years with player development; it’s difficult to find a way to deliver an experience for a child at a tender age that’s going to get him or her to come to the ballpark and stick with it and not change with the game.

How do you feel that players and the commissioner’s office can influence the sport through the upcoming World Baseball Classic?

Clark: I think this is an opportunity for us to not only educate fans and players and media about the World Baseball Classic but also have ownership connect more directly with players about their own connection with the WBC and also about how it’s going to impact the 2012 WBC.

I thought this year was a unique season because the original teams were left a week late while the WBC was announced. What can you tell us about that, and how you see that organization going forward?

Clark: I think it was the first time we had the opportunity to try it out with an eight-day playoff format and we have the opportunity to play some interleague games in interleague play. Having said that, we can’t shy away from the fact that the second round of the World Baseball Classic this year was fought over by players and baseball fans everywhere who didn’t think that had the kind of quality they wanted. And that gives us an opportunity to reflect on this and look at the way that this format could be better utilized next year.

In recent seasons, the MLB clubs have combined for lower on-field attendance numbers than they did in 2007, largely because of changes to postseason travel and the rising cost of merchandise. As an executive in the sport, can you envision MLB teams stretching their marketing reach in new directions in an effort to attract fans and retain them?

Clark: The on-field product has to come first. But certainly, within that baseball cannot act alone. I mean, there are things that you can do in terms of raising visibility, and the opportunities that exist, from a digital footprint standpoint, for us and owners and GMs to come together and put programs in place that keep our fans in touch with the game.

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