Bay Area Baseball: A Big Question Mark; New FB League Debuts; Pac-12 TV Fantasy

Spring training opens this week, and both Bay Area MLB teams have far more questions than answers.

For the Giants: Who’s in the outfield? Will Buster Posey return to form after hip surgery? Can they sign Bryce Harper? Will they trade Madison Bumgarner? Will they use openers?

For the A’s: Who’s in the starting rotation? Who’s catching? Can they re-sign their young stars? What’s up with the new ballpark? Is No. 1 draft pick Kyler Murray going to play baseball or football?

For both teams: Is anyone going to buy tickets?

The A’s got one answer this morning, and it wasn’t what they wanted to hear. Murray announced that “moving forward, I am firmly and fully committing my life and time to becoming an NFL quarterback.”

Ouch.

Murray reportedly will return most of his $1.5 million signing bonus and forfeit the remaining $3M that was due March 1. The A’s retain his rights, should he fail at football—a possibility given his 5’9” height—or try to play both sports (which is highly doubtful), but they don’t get a compensatory draft pick.

As for the Giants, up to this point highly-touted new GM Farhan Zaidi has only signed fringe players of questionable value. But he, manager Bruce Bochy and owner Larry Baer met with Harper last week.

Harper has some real baggage. He’s temperamental, a potential disruptive force in the clubhouse, and has had some well-publicized issues with former Giants’ pitcher Hunter Strickland and his Washington teammates. So there’s some risk involved.

From this corner, it’s worth the risk. The Giants need a real threat, someone who can hit more than 15 home runs, someone whose mere presence in the lineup will help Posey and company get better pitches to hit. Someone who will sell tickets.

Harper is one of the five best players in baseball. His agent, Scott Boras, likes the Giants. The Giants have the money.

Sign him.

Too much football? A week after the Super Bowl, a new pro league, the Alliance of American Football, made its debut on CBS. The eight-team league was organized by former NFL executive Bill Polian and TV exec Charlie Ebersol. It features a number of well-known coaches, including Steve Spurrier, Mike Singletary, Mike Martz and our old friend Mike Riley, the former Oregon State and San Diego Chargers coach.

Saturday's opening games did well on the field, at the box office and on TV. The quality of play was decent and entertaining. A few innovations--like live microphones on the replay officials--were well-received.

The San Antonio-San Diego game drew 27,857 fans at the Alamodome. That's pretty impressive. Perhaps more importantly, the telecast on CBS attracted a very respectable 2.9 million viewers, outdrawing an NBA game between Houston and Oklahoma City on ABC, featuring two of the league’s best players (James Harden and Russell Westbrook). Again, very impressive numbers.

Now the question is, will it last?

TV Dreams: The media consultant hired by the Pac-12 to help chart its future and find an investor in the league’s media rights (something called “Pac12NewCo”), last week told Jon Wilmer of the Mercury-News/Pac-12 Hotline that “By 2021-22, Over-The-Top will be the dominant form of distribution” and linear TV will be just an afterthought.

Nonsense.

First of all, anyone who thinks they can accurately predict what the media rights landscape will look like by 2023, when the Pac-12 TV package comes up for negotiation, much less in 2021, is crazy.

Secondly, those predicting the demise of the established sports networks—ESPN, ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox—anytime soon is also crazy.

Thirdly, while Amazon, Netflix and Apple have all kicked a few tires, none have yet proven their sincere interest in or ability to produce and acquire big-time sports rights.

Consider that two months ago, the Major League Baseball package was retained by Fox, which locked it in through 2028. The new $5.1 billion deal represented a 36% increase for MLB.

So yes, we are in an era of streaming and cord-cutting, and yes, things may change in the next five to ten years, but to predict a major shift to OTT with certainty, and to base your entire strategy on it at this point is, well, sheer folly.

Which pretty much describes everything the Pac-12 has done in TV for the past several years.

Gary Cavalli - Bowl and League co-founder, author, speaker 

Gary Cavalli, the former Sports Information Director and Associate Athletic Director at Stanford University, was co-founder and executive director of the college football bowl game played in the Bay Area, and previously was co-founder and President of the American Basketball League.

Get in touch//@cavalli49//gacavalli49@gmail.com

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