Speeding up the game of baseball, legalized sports betting and recreational drug use among players were among the topics that new Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred discussed with CNBC on Friday.
One of baseball's most pressing issues is the aging of its audience, and Manfred has spoken out about speeding up the pace of the game to help it connect with a new generation of fans.
"Our focus is to take out the dead time in the game, make sure our inning breaks are nice and tight," Manfred said during an interview at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics conference. "We are in and out in the amount we owe to advertisers but nothing more. We keep players in the batter's box to keep the action flowing a little more."
Last year, the average game lasted three hours, two minutes, clearly a number Manfred wants to reduce in an era of social media, multiple screens and fleeting attention spans.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver recently penned an op-ed in The New York Times advocating the relaxation of rules around sports betting. Meanwhile, in the past year daily fantasy games, which look a lot like sports betting, have seen dramatic growth. Manfred told CNBC that the gambling "landscape is changing very quickly" but that no one should expect "players or on-field personnel" betting on games anytime soon. Manfred did admit the "industry will have to take a hard look at" the larger issue of legalizing sports gambling.
In January, the league set a lofty revenue goal of $15 billion in the years to come, up massively from the $9 billion it makes now. Manfred said "the business of sports—and our business—is very strong." He said he thinks "the rise in (team) valuations is based on really strong fundamentals."
One of the key drivers of growth is digital media, such as the league's ownership of MLB Advanced Media, which remains a bright spot in diversifying the league's assets.
Manfred did not seem overly concerned about whether Alex Rodriguez was playing in the league. "I think the business of baseball is very, very good, regardless of the status of Alex Rodriguez."
Manfred has been a big critic of Rodriguez in the past, and said on Friday that he had "served his suspension and has the opportunity to resume his career." More importantly, he said baseball is "really bigger than any one player."