The biggest revelation in baseball Tuesday wasn’t that Major League Baseball was partnering with MGM to officially get into the gambling business — that was only a matter of time since the Supreme Court decision in May that opened the doors to legalize sports betting.
The biggest revelation in baseball came during the announcement of the MLB-MGM deal and it was this: Pace-of-play isn’t that bad after all.
Yes, you read that right. Baseball’s slow pace is being propped up as a good thing after years of hearing about how it’s ruining baseball and years of developing new rules aimed at fixing it. It goes to show, when sports gambling becomes legal, anything can change.
Commissioner Rob Manfred announced MLB’s deal with MGM in New York City on Tuesday. It’s a multi-year agreement that designates MGM Resorts as the league’s first-ever “official gaming partner” and “official entertainment partner.” What that means is that you’ll see the MLB brand aligned with the MGM brand at casinos, ballparks and events. MGM will be promoted across MLB media platforms and the casino will use MLB’s data. And baseball’s winter meetings, which happen in Las Vegas in two weeks, will be in an MGM property. So just throw a hashtag-corporate-synergy on the whole deal.
With legalized sports gambling still in its infancy — each state has to vote to approve it, according to the Supreme Court, and then create oversight — you have to imagine that this is just the beginning. The future could bring a lot more than cross-promotion, synergy and data sharing. Neither side dreamed too much during the press conference. But it’s not hard to imagine things like officially licensed mobile betting, in-seat gaming options, special stadium suites for high-rollers and betting windows in stadiums.
The future of sports gaming is wide open, which is why the NBA and NHL have already entered into similar agreements with MGM. And why players unions in baseball and beyond started lobbying for their piece of the pie months ago.
The most Manfred said on how gambling may shape the future of baseball was this seemingly mundane quote: “We are pleased to partner with MGM Resorts International, a clear industry leader in the sports gaming area, to work together on bringing innovative experiences to baseball fans and MGM customers.”
But even “innovative experiences” seems to expect there’s more to come. And that’s what brings us to Manfred’s more surprising quote. He then said baseball’s pace-of-play — Public Enemy No. 1 so far in Manfred’s tenure as commish — could actually be a benefit in the legalized-gambling age.
Per ESPN’s Darren Rovell:
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred says slower pace of play of baseball is an advantage in gambling as “it gives an opportunity to be creative with respect to the types of wagers” that could be made in between plays.
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) November 27, 2018
Two things about that:
1. Manfred is absolutely right. Gambling could turn baseball’s pace-of-play from something people complained about into something gamblers love. We all know sports fans who will bet on anything, and baseball offers dozens of micro bets per inning and hundreds of micro bets per game. This could single-handedly bring more eyes to baseball than any rule change ever could.
2. As correct as he is, it’s quite the about-face for MLB, which has spent five years telling us that pace-of-play was the big bad boogeyman and now is saying, “That big bad boogeyman is actually really helpful” now that we can generate money from him.
Pace-of-play has been, without question, the idea that’s guided so many of baseball’s rule changes the past few years. It’s why we have new rules about players not leaving the batter’s box, why minor leaguers play with a pitch clock, why that pitch clock could reach MLB one day, why there’s a limit on mound visits and why there are clocks in stadiums to make sure innings start on time.
We shouldn’t necessarily blame the league for making its slow pace a benefit, though. If this works out and gambling is the boost that most experts are expecting, MLB could turn one of its weaknesses into a strength — and that’s both good business and good maneuvering.
It’s just weird to hear it come out of the commissioner’s mouth after all these years. It’s like the Three Little Pigs deciding to ask the Big Bad Wolf to help blow their leaves away.
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