MLB commissioner Rob Manfred on expansion: ‘I think 32 teams would be great for our sport’

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MLB commissioner Rob Manfred joins Cris Carter, Nick Wright and Jenna Wolfe to talk expansion of the league.

- Well, let's start with this year. We think the things we did this year have been pretty good. We're down about five minutes, in terms of game time. Let's start with the most important one. Sometimes, we overlook it. They have been completely non-disruptive. There's not been one game where anybody was out there saying, if I'd just had one more mound visit, it would have been different.

So we think these changes have been positive this year. I think the dialogue is going to shift a little bit. I think it's-- the way that the owners are thinking about it is that the game has changed on the field as a result of the use of analytics, people's approach to the game. And we're at a point in time where we need to drop back and ask, should we manage that change a little bit?

You know, what GMs do, what field managers do, it's all directed at winning one or two more games. That may not be the best thing for us over the long haul. And we're trying to take a little broader look at the game, saying, it's changed a lot. Do we need to step in and just maybe moderate some of those changes?

CRIS CARTER: Do you see the league expanding under your tenure? And if it is going to expand, what would be a couple of the potential locations?

- OK, look, I hope I'm around long enough to see us expand. I really do. I think 32 would be great for our sport.

CRIS CARTER: 32 years?

[LAUGHING]

- Yeah, I don't think I have 32 years in me. But I do think 32 teams would help us. It opens up a whole host of things. You get to 14 divisions, which work better in the schedule. You could geographically realign. You could have a little different playoff format, a lot more flexibility.

In terms of cities, you know, I want to be careful here because, you know, any time you single one out, other cities feel slighted. But we have a real list of cities that I think are not only interested in having baseball, but are viable in terms of baseball-- places like Portland, Las Vegas, Charlotte, Nashville in the United States, certainly Montreal, maybe Vancouver in Canada. We think there's places in Mexico we could go over the long haul.

NICK WRIGHT: Can I just go back a question to what you were saying because I found the very end of that-- your answer-- interesting. When you-- you made the point that what might be best for a manager to win one or two more games might not be best for the overall health of the sport. And I think that's really important-- is that, ultimately-- like, competition matters, but sports are an entertainment endeavor for the millions of fans.

And so are you-- you guys, it sounds like you are having discussions about, OK, if analytically speaking, it makes sense when a guy like Bryce Harper is up to do a major shift that totally aesthetically changes how you're looking at it, changes his approach, we get the numbers behind it, but is it good for the number of fans watching the game? You guys are considering adjusting rules about what teams are allowed to do in those spots?

- Yeah, well, we're talking about how the games played on the field. Think about it this way. You can't control the way people think about the game. They're going to analyze it. Everybody's smarter. They've got more data. They know how to use the data.

JENNA WOLFE: It grows.

CRIS CARTER: Well, they got more information. That don't make them smarter.

[CHUCKLING]

- And that-- and that drives an organic process of change, right? It's a natural thing. The question becomes, at some point in time, are they doing things on the field that are not good for the entertainment value of our product over the long haul? And I don't think about it as us sitting in New York in some office building deciding we're going to change the game. Instead, I think about it-- we're watching you change the game and deciding how far it's going to go.

CRIS CARTER: Another aspect that could potentially change the game is legalize gambling. Do you look at that-- or how do you and Major League Baseball look at legalized gambling moving forward?

- Well, we see this as a challenge and an opportunity. So let's talk about the challenge first. You know, there would be no commissioner's office were it not for the threat of gambling and the need to protect the integrity of the game. So we know we need to be out there active in the states and with the federal government, depending on how this is all going to unfold, making sure that the laws get passed put us in a position to defend the integrity of the game.

No rap on state regulators, but when it comes to Major League Baseball, we don't delegate integrity to anybody else. It's our responsibility, and we intend to accept that responsibility. So that's the challenge.

The opportunity is, look, everybody knows the research. Gambling can drive fan engagement. You want to take advantage of that fan engagement opportunity without letting-- you know, gaming has a way of kind of swallowing things up. People get passionate about it. It can get too close to the sport. It can become too big. So we want to take advantage of that fan engagement opportunity without having gambling being too intrusive with respect to the sport.