Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Part 2: Demise of MLB...

Today I am discussing MLB's commissioner's office.

From all the articles I have read and stories I have heard, the commissioner’s office has always been considered the epitome of the “old boys’ network.” This is not something new and is a phrase that has been used to label the senior management of the league. While I don’t have exact numbers, it seems that once senior level executives joined the commissioner’s office, they stay for many years – excluding former commissioners Fay Vincent and A. Bart Giamatti. Why is this? From an institutional knowledge perspective, it is imperative to have executives who understand the overall baseball relationships with the teams and owners and the history of how issues have been handled in the past. On the flip side, it is essential to recruit “new blood” who can offer exciting, fresh ideas that can help enhance the League’s overall business model.

Throughout my years of being a passionate baseball fan, it always seems that MLB was slow to react to baseball-related issues. They seemed to take a reactive approach to media issues instead of a pro-active approach, which is a smarter business strategy to enhance a company’s image. Every year Commissioner Bud Selig is named in the top 15 of The Sporting News and Sports Business Journal’s list of the most important people in sports. I am amazed the commissioner has garnered so much respect considering the fact that he participates in little to no media interviews. The last time the public saw Commissioner Selig speak with the media [excluding one-off interviews] was when he wanted MLB’s Players Association (MLBPA) to accept a longer suspension for players who have been caught using banned drugs. This was a great media relations strategy. The commissioner presented relevant and compelling reasons why it was important to develop a stronger suspension program for players. The media and fans agreed with his ideas and he was able to generate the support he needed to pressure the MLBPA. Why can’t he do this on a yearly basis? People seemed drawn to him, but he doesn’t want to be in the public eye.

The commissioner’s public relations executive platform is extremely different from that of NFL’s Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and NBA’s Commissioner David Stern. Two or three times a year, both of these commissioners are in the public eye taking a stand on an important sports issue. The fans see these commissioners speaking on a topic and know they are important decision makers and care about improving their sports. Commissioner Selig may be extremely powerful in the baseball world, but unfortunately, image is everything to the general public. Most fans remember him as the commissioner who couldn’t make a decision about how to end the 2002 All-Star Game. It frustrates me to no end since he really needs to make an effort to be in the public eye at least twice a baseball season.

David Heuschkel, the Red Sox beat reporter for the Hartford Courant, agreed that the commissioner’s office has not done the best job handling issues. He noted: “I don’t think Bud Selig and the people around him are smart enough to figure out a way to repair [baseball’s image]. The best thing baseball can do is tell Bonds to get lost, the same way David Stern told Michael Jordan when all those rumors about his gambling began to surface. It was a good excuse for MJ to try his hand at baseball. That’s the difference between a real commissioner like the late Bart Giamatti and a pseudo commissioner like Selig. Giamatti banished Rose from the game and Selig couldn’t do it with Bonds, which has hurt the sport by having him stick around.”

From a business of sports aspect, what needs to be done? The commissioner’s office must create a strong executive platform for its main spokesperson – Commissioner Selig, Bob DuPay, Tim Bronsan or whomever. This person needs to be positioned in the same way the other leagues position Stern, Tagliabue or other high ranking officials as strong leaders to the sport, the media and, most importantly, the fans. MLB also needs to reorganize and add staff to its public relations department. They have an amazing product with a rich history and a loyal fan base, but they do not present a strong executive leadership strategy that will help lead MLB to the forefront of American sports.


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