Transcript: Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig & ESPN President John Skipper Media Conference Call

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Transcript: Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig & ESPN President John Skipper Media Conference Call

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Earlier today, Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig and ESPN President John Skipper appeared together on a media conference call to discuss the start of ESPN’s 25th Major League Baseball season and the first year of the new multi-platform rights agreement between the two entities.

Here is the replay of the call: ESPN MLB 25. The transcript is below.

BUD SELIG:  Thank you very much, and good morning, everybody, or I guess good afternoon as the case may be.  First of all, I’d like to thank John Skipper and everyone at ESPN for their ongoing partnership.  We’ve had a great relationship, a very productive one for everybody, and we’re really looking forward to this year, and we couldn’t be more excited for the start of our 25th year ‑ hard to believe, John ‑ of Major League Baseball and ESPN, and over the course of that time ESPN has televised or documented really all the greatest moments in Major League Baseball, and frankly their commitment to our sport is valued.

This Sunday’s opening game will also mark the beginning of our new eight‑year agreement, with ESPN, and with this new deal, ESPN is increasing the amount of its already‑extensive game and studio coverage, and we’re really delighted.

I’m especially looking forward to ESPN bringing back live pre-game shows at the site of many of its Sunday Night Baseball games.  These shows will capture the special energy and passion of our fans in our ballparks.  ESPN’s enhanced coverage is coming at a very unique time in our league’s history.  This season is going to mark the first year of instant replay, which I know people are very excited about, and it’s going to bring a new element to the game and quite frankly how it’s covered on television.

Frankly, Major League Baseball’s remarkable competitive balance gives fans of every club, to use two of my favorite terms, the faith and hope that their teams can compete.  ESPN will show at least one game of our 30 clubs throughout the season, which is very, very important to me.

Major League Baseball is currently enjoying a time where there’s a wealth of exciting young players in the league who are making a major impact in the game.  Stars like Mike Trout, young players, Bryce Harper, Clayton Kershaw, Andrew McCutchen, José Fernandez and Yasiel Puig and so many others have demonstrated unique talent and charisma that the fans are consuming baseball in more ways and more often than ever before.  I’ve often said that this sport has never been more popular using every criteria that we can, and that is true.

And while the younger players are generating this buzz, I suspect ESPN will spend some time covering Derek Jeter’s final season.  Derek for me and for everybody has been the ultimate ambassador for baseball and a role model for fans and the rest of the players in our league.

And so we’re really excited that the 2014 season has everything in store, and we appreciate, again, our long‑standing relationship with ESPN.  We’re looking forward to celebrating 25 seasons together all year long.  Thank you very much, and it’s a pleasure to be with you this morning.

JOHN SKIPPER:  I appreciate those kind remarks, Commissioner.  We’ve enjoyed the long‑term partnership very much.  We’ve also benefitted from your leadership during almost all of those 25 years, 23 of those 25 years, and we appreciate all you’ve done for the game.  I’m very excited about our new deal, first of eight new years with baseball.

We’ll have more baseball, as the Commissioner noted, than ever.  We could do as many as 101 games this year.  This would be our first year in the postseason.  We’re excited about getting a wild card this year.  We’ll do some play‑in games.  We’ve agreed in the new deal for the league to be very flexible about getting games added to the schedule in the last couple of weeks so that fans nationally can see the contenders coming down the home stretch.

I like a lot of the new parts of the new deal.  The Commissioner noted the 30 games.  We and the league have both talked about making sure that fans get a chance to see every team nationally during the regular season.  I think that’s an important new feature.  Love the way we’re getting started this season.  We’ll be with the Dodgers this Sunday night, five games on Monday, featuring a lot of those new players the Commissioner talked about, Yasiel Puig in the opening game, Mike Trout will be there Monday, and we have the World Champions on Monday.  So I think we’ll have a big opener Sunday night and Monday.

We too are excited about getting the pre-game show, Baseball Tonight, back for our Sunday Night Baseball games.  The fans at the parks really love to see our set there, and it creates a lot of excitement.  Again, it’s part of the new deal that we were able to work out with baseball.  They love that feature, and we do, as well.

I think we’re keyed up here for an excellent season.  Our ratings were up last year, so I’ll anticipate a question –

I bet somebody is teed up to ask us.  We were up last year and we feel very good about the prospects with all those young stars, with the parity, showing more teams, with the flexibility in the schedule, our being in the postseason, I think we’re poised to have a really excellent 25th year, and as the Commissioner noted we’ll be celebrating the 25th year.  At Disney and ESPN we have a knack for being able to celebrate things for a long time, so we look forward to an excellent year.

I wanted to note one other thing, that in a call that’s all about celebration and things we’re excited about, I do want to give a little shout‑out to Curt Schilling, who continues to undergo treatment for his cancer.  He’s asking that we keep the details of that private.  But I want to make it clear that Curt Schilling is going to let us know when he’s going to be back, and we’ll put him on the air about 15 minutes after he lets us know that, so our thoughts and prayers are with Curt and his family.

Q.  This is for Mr. Skipper and the Commissioner, of course.  If we know anything about TV viewers, they want bigger, better, faster, higher every year, so I ask each of you the one or two things that you’re excited about for the viewer this year with the TV.

BUD SELIG:  Well, the thing that I think I’m most excited about, other than I really am very serious about our competitive balance situation.  We’ve worked very hard on that, and I think you’re going to see that manifest itself in a myriad of ways this year, but also instant replay, and I was at one time not in favor of it, and I watched in Spring Training.  I think it will have an effect not only on our fans but on television.  It’ll certainly have an effect in park, but it certainly will be ‑‑ the long history of television and baseball, it’s an evolution like everything else in life is, and I really am quite excited about that, and I’m going to be anxious to see how well it plays.  But I’m proud of what our guys have done, and I think it’ll play very well.

JOHN SKIPPER:  You know what I’m personally most excited about is the juxtaposition of the opportunity to document Derek Jeter’s last season while we have all these great young players.  It’s one of the views of baseball, the sort of sense of tradition and continuity which exists.  At the same time, and I think, with Derek Jeter’s retirement and the new players, I think it’ll be a real chance to highlight that unique feature of baseball.

Q.  I just wanted to ask Commissioner Selig, coming into this new deal, fans have said in the past that baseball’s television partners favor the marquee teams like the Yankees and the Red Sox, the Dodgers and the Cardinals, that fans or television viewers get a steady diet of those guys, and some of the non‑marquee teams in baseball don’t get that kind of treatment.  Was that a concern of yours coming into this deal, and the way that you’ve reconfigured it so that all the teams are on ESPN at least once during the season, is that a way to address that?

BUD SELIG:  Well, you know how I feel about competitive balance.  You’ve heard it probably more times than you ever want to remember. It’s always a concern, but we’ve really reconfigured this deal because it’s easy now.  We have real competitive balance, more so than we’ve ever had, and I think more so than anybody else has.  But that’s for another day.  But now, yes, all 30 teams will be on, and there will be a lot of teams on at different times.  The ESPN schedule will manifest what’s going on in the sport, and that is that we’ve got a lot of teams that are very competitive and therefore will be on television.  So yeah, we’ve come a long way.

Q.  John, do you have any concerns about your people getting caught up, being part of the story when it comes to instant replay?  In other words, why didn’t ESPN have this thing on, sort of your role in how that’s going to work?

JOHN SKIPPER:  I don’t think so.  I mean, it’s a legitimate concern, but we of course have managed it in other sports.  It’s been a long time.  I’m happy it’ll give us the challenge, but we haven’t had many problems with ‘why you don’t have that angle.’  Instant replay tends to highlight just how well we document the game, and people are more often shocked at I can’t believe they have that that well.

And of course with baseball, we have a pretty good track record of having the camera positions and knowing where the plays are going to be.  So I would think working together, I don’t anticipate ‑‑ we look forward to it.  We’re not worried about the challenge at all.  Like the Commissioner said, I think this is going to enhance the broadcast, not diminish it.

Q.  Bud, how much of a role does baseball have when it comes to choosing or signing off on the announcers who work national broadcasts?

BUD SELIG:  I would say we have none, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.  ESPN has their own announcers.  I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about that, and frankly we’ve never really had a problem.  With all our national broadcast partners, frankly, unless there’s something that I can’t even imagine, and in the last 23 years I haven’t seen it, so somebody else will worry about it in another year or so, no, that’s up to them.  Listen, we’re in this together, so you want to do something that makes the broadcast as attractive as possible to people, and I have great faith in their judgment. So I guess I’ll add this ‑ John won’t mind ‑ I try not to tell other people how to run their business, and likewise goes for me running baseball.

JOHN SKIPPER:  I would certainly echo that.  We hope that we’re excellent partners.  We do nothing without making sure our partners understand it, but baseball has been very respectful of our expertise at doing the games.  We have good dialogue about everything, just as we respect the decisions made in the interest of baseball are made by the Commissioner’s office.  Decisions about interested fans, a lot of those watching television, are made here, so we have mutual respect.

Q.  John, I was hoping you could speak to the importance of getting back into the postseason for you in this new deal.  Obviously it’s been eight years since you last had an October game.  Talk about the importance of that in the overall deal.

JOHN SKIPPER:  We’re very excited about that.  I mean, postseason, interest in baseball peaks.  It’s a wonderful time of year.  Again, thanks to our friends at baseball, we’ve been there with news and information.  Baseball’s other broadcast partners have been excellent at being flexible, and I think they understand that having SportsCenter at the World Series and having our reporters on the field is excellent for everybody.  But there’s nothing like being there and it being your booth and being on your air and that creates a level of excitement.  So it was very important for us, and we’re thrilled to have it in the new deal.

We feel the same way about the play‑in games and the pennant chase games.  It’s really going to give an air of excitement.  You can kind of feel it on the campus here when you’re in the postseason and it’s our game.  The level of excitement is very high, so it’s very important to us.

Q.  Obviously we’re here in LA and there’s been a lot of talk about the Dodgers’ deal with the new network and a lot of fans not being able to watch Dodger games here if they don’t have Time‑Warner.  How do you feel about that, and why is it so important for you to be airing the opening game with the Dodgers on Sunday?

JOHN SKIPPER:  Well, the last part I assume is for me, and look, it’s a marquee team with one of the great young players, Yasiel Puig, with one of the great pitchers, Clayton Kershaw, who by the way is on the cover of ESPN the Magazine this week.  It’s a marquee matchup.  The Commissioner and I were laughing before, we also have a very good shot to have good weather in San Diego for opening night, so it’s a good place for us to be.  Dodgers are, of course, one of the marquee teams, a great way to start the season for us.

BUD SELIG:  It certainly was, and I said to John, when John and I were having a conversation before, I’ve already started to worry about weather.  All of you who know me well know I do that all year long, so I’ve been worrying about cold weather and rain.  Anyway, if we have a problem Sunday night, then I know we really have troubles, but I know we aren’t going to, and it’s a great game.

As for the first question, I’ve answered that in a myriad of ways.  I have faith in all the parties that they will work their problems out.  There just is nothing more to say at this point, but I’m confident that ultimately they’ll work everything out.

Q.  David Samson has made a big deal the last few months about the speed of the game, and he’s telling Marlins players they must play the game more quickly and it’s a big concern for him as far as attendance.  John, form a TV standpoint does speed of the game still worry you, and Bud, is there anything more being done to speed the pace up?

BUD SELIG:  Well, it’s the pace of the game.  Speed sometimes is not always the right answer.  I’ve read David’s remarks.  I have been talking to all of our people, particularly Joe Torre and Tony La Russa and Peter Woodfork and everybody, and yes, I’ve talked to a lot of the umpires, and I’m confident that we’re moving in the right direction, and it’s important that we do continue to do that.  Obviously it will depend on the type of game, number of pitching changes, everything else, but yes, that is a matter that I have been talking to a lot of people about.

JOHN SKIPPER:  Not a significant concern for us. I agree with the Commissioner’s characterization that pace is much more important than speed.  I’ve been at an awful lot of very riveting three‑and‑a‑half‑hour games.  It really is about the competition and what’s going on, and we’re confident that as demonstrated over a long tenure that baseball will make the right decisions for the game.

Q.  Mr. Selig, with deals like this and with the different ways fans are able to watch games now, online and through mobile applications, is there any thought to revisiting the blackout policy that keeps fans from being able to watch games for teams that really aren’t even their local market?

BUD SELIG:  No, I can’t tell you that there is right now.  After all, we have, I think, the most fair blackout policy, and I don’t even like to use the term blackout.  It’s in a very, very limited area, areas, and the fact is that my goal has always been to protect the local market and the local television carriers.  I know my friend John Skipper will understand that.  It’s just fair.  Local clubs make local deals, and therefore, after all, they’ve made a deal, and it’s up to us, both morally as well as economically, to protect that deal.  Yes, we continue to work on that policy.  I’ll get letters occasionally from people, and I always respond, and we try to be as fair as we can, and by the way, we will continue to do that.

Q.  Bud, just wondering about the possible PED enhancement, and are you surprised that the players have been as vigilant as they have in trying to get something stricter done?

BUD SELIG:  Well, you know, I’m pleased.  When you think ‑‑ I said before that everything really evolves in an evolutionary manner.  When you think back to where this sport was 20 years ago, 15 years ago, and where we are today, toughest drug testing program in American sports, we will have an announcement coming up very shortly which is even better, and I commend our people, and I commend the players.

You know how hard I’ve fought for this, and in 2005, ‘6, ‘7, ‘8, it was kind of a lonely battle for a while, but I’m really pleased.  The players’ response has been terrific, and we’ve come to a point that nobody could have dreamed about.  I’m not telling you things are perfect, but boy, they’ve come a long, long way.  I always quote my father who says nothing is good or bad except by comparison, and if you compare as WADA and everybody else has said, we do have the toughest testing program in this country today.  And I give all parties credit for that.

Q.  Last year with baseball exceeding $8 billion in revenue, do you anticipate maybe cracking $9 billion this year, and how high can this go?

BUD SELIG:  Well, given the fact that when we started in ‑‑ when I started in ’92 it was a billion‑two, and I’m proud of where we are today, yes, I have hopes for $9 billion.  I don’t know that we’ll make that this year, but we may.  We may.  How high can it go?  If this sport continues to make the progress at all levels, international and everything else, I’ve often said I hope I’m around 10 years from now to see it because I think it’s going to be amazing.  It can go a lot higher.

Q.  Can you talk a little bit about any kind of celebrations you’re going to have with Derek Jeter’s last season?

BUD SELIG:  Yeah, we’re talking about it.  Look, I want to say to you about Derek, and I’ll have plenty to say during the course of the year, no player in my time has represented this sport any better than Derek Jeter.  He really has in many ways been the face of baseball, and I am proud of him.  I’ve told him that often.  He’s just been a great player on the field, but to be frank with you, a better person off the field.

There will be a lot of appropriate celebrations as time goes on, and we’re talking about a lot of things now, but a lot of that also is going to be up to Derek.  I’m sorry to see him go, but in every great career it has to come to an end at some point.  You couldn’t have done any better as a human being the last 20 years relative to this sport than Derek Jeter has done.

JOHN SKIPPER:  I’ll commit that whatever the Commissioner and Derek Jeter and the Yankees decide to do, that we are perfectly willing to document every second of it.

Q.  Commissioner, what effect will televising more games on ESPN have on teams who have begun winning again like the Pirates and Orioles, and they’re looking for more exposure, as well, and my question for John Skipper is how do you plan on celebrating Bud Selig’s last year as MLB Commissioner?

BUD SELIG:  I’ll answer mine first.  I think ESPN helps us.  We are very careful in our whole television schedule in how we schedule, who we schedule.  Listen, the Pittsburgh story was well‑documented everywhere last year, including on ESPN.  Baltimore, who I think has an extraordinarily competitive team this year and will be ‑‑ I think ESPN just fits into the local group, the rest of our national, and I think it helps clubs.  The more exposure this sport gets, the more it helps us, and I regard the ESPN part of it as extremely important.

JOHN SKIPPER:  And I just would point out, we have the Pirates on May 11th.  The Pirates are pretty important to this.  I plead guilty, there was a question earlier about favoring marquee teams, and it’s only natural, right.  We know we’re going to get the best ratings if we put the Yankees and the Dodgers and the Red Sox on television, and we had good conversations in our negotiations about a player like Andrew McCutchen.  It works for all of us to get more exposure earlier and for national fans to see him more often, and so we’ve reached a new deal where we get more games and we get more studio hours and highlight rights, and one thing that was important to baseball is we want everybody to see all of our great players, and we’re excited about doing that.  So we were thrilled to be doing that.

As to your question about the Commissioner, he’s a very modest man and is often reluctant.  He helps us ‑‑ we just talked about the fact he’ll be on Mike & Mike on Monday morning.  He has always been there for us.  He is reluctant to have too much celebration, but I can assure you we’ll have the appropriate documentation, celebration, acknowledgment of the tenure, when Commissioner Selig decides it’s time.

Q.  Let’s talk first of all real quick about the fact that you are going to have so many games on the WatchESPN app.  Commissioner, your thoughts about being able to watch the games both on cell phone and tablets and places outside of the home, and then lastly, your thoughts on the success of the Baltimore and Washington coexistence together, both being a good market for baseball again in Washington.

BUD SELIG:  Well, the first part of your question, this is the new world we live in.  There’s no question about it.  Look, when I say that the sport has never been more popular, that means, and we do a lot of this through BAM, of course, as all of you know, and BAM has been unbelievably successful.  I think John would share that view, and we’re proud of that.  I think it’s just another link to our fans, and that’s important.  It’s very, very important to me. That’s the world we live in, and we want to live in that world and be part of it.

As for Baltimore and Washington, both clubs are highly rated this year.  I note all the preseason things I read, Washington certainly is getting great play, and Baltimore has really improved themselves.  It’s a wonderful baseball market, it really is a wonderful baseball market, and so I think both teams are going to be in division races all year long and maybe a lot longer.

JOHN SKIPPER:  To the first part of that question, again, it’s part of the new deal which we’re excited about.  One of the reasons sports is so important these days is you have to watch it live, so the ability to watch it on your desktop computer at work, it does increase work productivity, the more ESPN you watch, by the way, and this will be particularly important when you have the pennant chase games.  Some of those are day games, and we’re able to bring that to fans on devices that they can get to if they’re not home.  I think a good part of the new deal will be terrific for fans, and that’s ultimately, as the Commissioner is saying, what matters about this.  It’s giving fans more opportunities to watch in more circumstances.  We’ve had a good working relationship with baseball at doing that.

Q.  John, you talked about all the teams being shown on ESPN this season.  What about Sunday Night Baseball when you get the opportunity to show more marquee teams?  Can you explain the flexibility of Sunday Night Baseball and getting more appearances by the Yankees and Red Sox and Dodgers in there?

JOHN SKIPPER:  Well, in the new deal, we do get a few more opportunities to showcase the big teams, and we’re trying to do a balance, right?  Sunday Night Baseball is the marquee, exclusive national broadcast.  It’s the time where our goal there is to bring the nation together to watch a baseball game, and it’s in everybody’s interest there to feature the marquee teams and marquee players.  But we’re able to do that balance of putting some more games on Sunday night, but in our Sunday night and Monday night, Wednesday night, holiday games – we haven’t mentioned the fact that we have more games now on Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day –  we’ll get a chance to feature teams from other markets and a chance for people to see other stars from baseball.  So I think it’s a pretty good balance, and again, we worked well with baseball here to try to do both, which is, let’s attract a big, broad national television audience and let’s also expose that audience to more teams.

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Ben Cafardo

I lead communications strategy and execution for ESPN’s NBA, MLB, FIBA and Little League World Series properties. I’m also a proud consumer of all things ESPN.
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