FanFest, the interactive exhibit and card-memorabilia show that is held at the site of the All-Star Game each year, is always a huge hit. A similar attraction should be a seasonlong fixture in every major league city. And baseball should build on the popularity of the kids-run-the-bases promotion that teams occasionally offer after games by throwing open its doors before games, on off days and during the off-season. "We treat baseball stadiums like sacred temples that no one can enter unless the priests are there," Burton says. "Get kids running around on the fields, make them more public areas, use them as parks or sites for clinics and camps."
6. Institute a competitive balance draft
Talent is the most valuable commodity in baseball, and, like money, it needs to be shared. Each November the eight teams with the highest revenues would protect 38 players on their roster, rather than the traditional 40. The eight clubs with the lowest revenues would be able to draft one unprotected player from those rich ones. No team could lose more than one player. New York Yankees outfield prospects Juan Rivera or Marcus Thames, for instance, might get a chance to play every day for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The draft would create hot-stove fan interest and reward savvy organizations smart enough to unearth the next Vinny Castilla or Trevor Hoffman, who were expansion draft picks.
7. Launch an all-baseball digital TV channel
ESPN is baseball's de facto television home, but Major League Baseball should develop an in-house channel akin to NBA TV, the league's all-basketball digital-cable channel. For starters, an MLB-owned-and-operated channel could offer comprehensive highlight packages and live coverage of press conferences and other events, as well as exclusive access to players, clubhouses and the game's inner circle, which a privately held channel cannot provide. In addition, placing the package on a digital tier is easier than securing analog cable placement and would open forward-looking avenues in TV commerce and interactivity, an area that the league has managed well with Web-based features such as Condensed Games and Custom Cuts packages (pay services that assemble video highlights based on user preferences).
NBA TV, conceived on a similar model but also featuring live coverage of 98 games per season, was worth $45 million to AOL Time Warner (SI's parent company) for a 10% share and 25 cents per customer to cable providers. Any venture that increases baseball's total revenue pool would benefit competitive balance. TV is a tough game to break into, but in the brave new 500-channel universe, where country music can sustain not one but two channels, surely there's a place for the national pastime.
8. Level the playing field in Latin America
All teams should have an equal shot at Latin American prospects. As the players' association has suggested, Major League Baseball—not individual clubs—should operate Latin American baseball academies, the boarding school-training centers for prospects age 16 and up. For instance the Atlanta Braves, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Red Sox and the Yankees (high-revenue teams all) currently operate first-rate academies in the Dominican Republic, giving them an advantage in developing and signing the best Latin American talent. Among the players who have come through the Dodgers' Dominican academy, for example, are Pedro Martinez, Ramon Martinez and Raul Mondesi. Some low-revenue clubs, such as the Twins and the Pirates, have academies that are far less plush, which inhibits their ability to recruit and sign players. More equity in the distribution of Latin American talent will help competitive balance.
9. Create a baseball World Cup tournament
What better way to bring intrigue to the game than a tournament (six teams, double elimination, 10 days) with players representing the U.S., Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Japan plus an international squad (Australians, Canadians, Koreans, etc.)? Cuba could be added if the political situation can be resolved. The event would be held every other year in the third week of March with the host city rotating among Miami, Phoenix, San Juan, Santo Domingo, Caracas, Tokyo and other venues such as Toronto. There's nothing like a little nationalism to arouse interest, as the sport of soccer proves every four years.
10. Assist small-market clubs in retaining their stars
Low-revenue teams deserve a fighting chance to retain the stars they originally signed and developed—players who form the foundation of fan loyalty—and to do that they need financial assistance. The Kansas City Royals, for instance, could have used such help in trying to re-sign outfielder Johnny Damon, whom they traded to Oakland before last season in anticipation of losing him to free agency. Damon subsequently signed a four-year, $31 million contract with the Red Sox.
Under what would be baseball's version of the NBA's Larry Bird Exception, the Royals could have qualified for money from the commissioner's discretionary fund. Any team in the lower half of the revenue rankings would be eligible for funds to resign players whom they had originally signed and developed and who were eligible for free agency. The available money would be $3 million per year for each Type A free agent (the elite, as established by the Elias Sports Bureau's statistical rankings), $2 million for Type B and $1 million for Type C.