Powerful ex-MLB exec forced out after years of 'troubling workplace behavior'

Big League Stew
Bob Bowman, considered out of sports and digital media’s most powerful executives, was reportedly forced out of MLB after years of alleged misconduct. (CNBC)
Bob Bowman, considered out of sports and digital media’s most powerful executives, was reportedly forced out of MLB after years of alleged misconduct. (CNBC)

Long-time Major League Baseball Advanced Media president Bob Bowman — considered one of the most powerful men in sports and digital media — was forced out of his position last month after “troubling workplace behavior” that had gone on for years, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal.

Bowman, 62, is accused of propositioning female colleagues, carrying on sexual relationships with them, degrading female employees by calling them the c-word and allowing employees to hire women who were believed to be escorts for an All-Star game party, according to an investigation by the Wall Street Journal’s Rachel Bachman and Brian Costa. The final straws for MLB and commissioner Rob Manfred came in a pair of incidents this year. From the Wall Street Journal’s report:

Other forces were at work, people familiar with the situation say. Bowman verbally abused a coworker in October, prompting Manfred to push him out, these people say. That was preceded by a July incident in which Bowman allegedly shoved an executive with the group that owns the Boston Red Sox.

“The culture that started at BAM was hard working and driven. At times, it was also inappropriate and I take full responsibility,” Bowman said in a statement to The Wall Street Journal. “This inappropriate behavior reflects my personal flaws and not someone else’s. This behavior and my personal behavior were wrong. To those who felt the sting of my behavior, I am truly sorry. To my family, friends and business colleagues who have been steadfastly supportive of me, and whom I have embarrassed, I apologize.”

For 17 years, Bowman oversaw MLBAM and it became the most successful video and digital company in sports. The league adopted streaming long before any other major sport, which still carries on today in the form of MLB.TV. It was a major source of revenue for the league, bringing in millions each year. Other organizations — like the NHL, WWE, HBO and ESPN — partnered with BAM for its technology.

In August, BAMTech, a spinoff of the company, was valued at $3.7 billion after being purchased by Disney. That was such a lucrative sale that owners of all 30 MLB teams will reportedly get a $50 million payout next year for their stake in BAMTech.

Bowman stepped down from his position Nov. 6. In the press release announcing the news, Bowman said it was time for new leadership at the company: “With the recent completion of the sale of a majority stake in BAMTech to The Walt Disney Company, and recognizing the enormous talent pool that exists at MLB and MLB.com, it is an ideal time for new leadership. Of all that we have accomplished, I am most proud of the people I have worked with, many of whom have been with me each step of the way over the past 17 years.”

But in reality there was more to the story. From the Wall Street Journal:

Bowman’s departure capped a tenure riddled with concerns about his workplace conduct. People familiar with Bowman say he engaged in a pattern of behavior that included propositioning female colleagues, allegedly conducting consensual relationships with subordinate coworkers and cultivating a culture of partying and heavy drinking with employees outside the office.

The Journal’s report makes the BAM offices sound like a fraternity house, where sex and drinking were commonplace. As long as the company was successful — which it was — people seemingly looked the other way during some of the more eye-raising moments. Like this, from the 2016 All-Star game:

During the week of the All-Star Game in July 2016 in San Diego, MLB Advanced Media hosted a party at which women were allegedly hired to entertain attendees, according to two people who attended. These people said the women, who arrived at the party by bus, were widely believed by attendees to be escorts. Some of them were heard encouraging attendees to leave to have sex quickly so that they could return to solicit another attendee before the party was over, according to one person who was there.

Rumors of the incident got back to Manfred. Weeks later he asked Bowman about the incident, according to a person familiar with the situation. Manfred told Bowman that if he did something like that again, he would fire him, these people said.

Or this, which happened years ago:

In the early 2000s, Bowman was standing with two female subordinates in BAM’s offices, a person familiar with Bowman said. To the women’s faces and within earshot of other BAM employees, Bowman referred to the women as “c___s.”

Bowman now becomes the most prominent figure in MLB to be accused of inappropriate workplace behavior, a story that has sprouted up all across the country in various industries. A month prior to Bowman stepping down, the New York Times published an article on Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, alleging a number of sexual assault and harassment allegations. That story spurred a number of women to come forward and speak out about times they’ve been assault or harassed by men.

In November, those stories started to seep into baseball. Three weeks after Bowman stepped down, former major-league catcher and Toronto Blue Jays broadcaster Gregg Zaun was fired from his job at Sportsnet after complaints of inappropriate conduct in the workplace.

The larger question in the Bowman case becomes how long MLB glossed over Bowman’s behavior because his arm of the company was doing so well and whether someone else will be accountable for that. The Wall Street Journal’s story paints current MLB commissioner Rob Manfred as being more proactive in patrolling Bowman’s behavior once he became aware of it.

But former commissioner Bud Selig — whose tenure overlapped with Bowman’s until Selig retired in 2015 — was said to have known about the culture Bowman was fostering within MLBAM. One Wall Street Journal source, described as “a former high-ranking official,” said concerns about Bowman had been raised to Selig, but Selig had “no interest in dealing with it.”

Selig, in a statement released through his attorney, said: “It is highly inappropriate for the Commissioner Emeritus to publicly discuss any private conversations he has had with former employees.”

Yahoo Sports’ Mike Oz contributed to this report.

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