Fans of the Texas Rangers were the recipients of much of the news to come from the quarterly meetings of baseball owners, who on Thursday concluded a two-day run at the Fairmont Dallas.
Most fans will have no complaints. The Rangers’ season opener will be at 3:05 p.m. April 4 at Rangers Ballpark, part of a seven-game ESPN national broadcast extravaganza, and in-market live streaming for Rangers games shown on Fox Sports Southwest will be available.
But even Commissioner Rob Manfred knows that not everyone will be pleased with the main talking point.
Manfred said that baseball will recommend to clubs that netting behind home plate be extended for the upcoming season, a resolution to a safety initiative that started in 2015 when a fan at Fenway Park was seriously injured by a broken bat.
1,750 Estimated fans injured each season at MLB ballparks by foul balls, according to a 2014 study by Bloomberg
Fan safety would seem to be a no-brainer, but things aren’t always as they seem. Some fans don’t want a net to obstruct their view, especially for the price they might be paying for their tickets.
While the commissioner and club owners try to keep all fans happy, more than anything else they try to keep all fans as safe as possible.
“A lot of things seem easy and are not always so easy,” Manfred said. “Fan safety is paramount for us. We want our fans to be safe at the ballpark, but we also have lots of fans who are very vocal about the fact that they don’t like to sit behind nets.
“The toughest issue for us is always when we have fans on both sides of the equation. If it’s a fan and, let’s say, revenue, we always try to err on the side of the fan. But if the fans want X on one side and we’re concerned about fans on the other side, that’s a more difficult balance.”
Manfred said that details aren’t final, in part because no ballpark is built the same. A more definitive plan will come out of the next round of meetings in January when a discussion that was born this week on safety enhancements in light of the Paris terrorist attacks will be a focal point.
But owners want more netting, so it’s going to happen.
Conceptually, the clubs encouraged us to move forward on this. ... Today was a conversation. It was not us coming in [saying], ‘Here’s what we’re going to do.’
Commissioner Rob Manfred on increased netting at ballparks
Globe Life Park in Arlington won’t be undergoing a massive overhaul as a result. The safety enhancements will be relatively inexpensive, especially against the moral obligation ownership feels, and can be done in a relatively short amount of time.
To appease fans who don’t want their views obstructed, the Rangers could turn to a netting that is thinner than traditional nylon nets.
If fans still are upset, at least they can watch games on their mobile devices. MLB and Fox Sports have entered into a three-year agreement, and any subscriber to Fox Sports Southwest will have access to in-market live streaming of games.
“The media landscape is changing very, very rapidly, and it’s important for us to make sure that our content is available on as many platforms as possible for ways that fans may want to enjoy our games,” Manfred said. “I think this is a big step forward.”
So is extended netting at ballparks, even if all fans won’t be entirely happy.