MLB.com Columnist

Phil Rogers

Manfred: Cubs 'huge piece of postseason success'

Chicago's first WS win in 108 years caused surge in TV ratings, merchandise sales

Manfred: Cubs 'huge piece of postseason success'

CHICAGO -- Outside Bloomingdale's on North Michigan Avenue, three flags were fluttering in a gentle breeze on Thursday afternoon.

The United States flag had one staff to itself. The other was shared by the city of Chicago's flag and one carrying the familiar big blue W, like the one that flies atop the Wrigley Field scoreboard whenever the Cubs win.

That flag is everywhere you look in Chicago these days -- pasted onto the windows of high-rise buildings or flying from the antennas of cars. The symbol itself is in broader circulation, adorning baseball caps or the knit stocking caps that will be worn through the winter.

It's not clear when the celebration of the Cubs' World Series victory will end, but it's safe to say it's not happening any time soon.

Major League Baseball's owners were treated to a first-hand experience of the city's giddiness during their quarterly business meetings at the Drake Hotel, which ended on Thursday.

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In another era, this gathering could have been filled with anxiety and crisis planning, as baseball's collective bargaining agreement expires on Dec. 1. But there have been no signs that the labor peace that was instilled under Bud Selig more than two decades ago won't continue in the first negotiation since Rob Manfred moved from chief labor officer to Commissioner.

These days, the sport has too much going for it, including a championship team 108 years in the makings.

The Cubs' crazy ride through the postseason began with a ninth-inning rally in San Francisco to avoid playing a deciding game against the Giants, who had won their past 11 postseason rounds, including three World Series. Then Chicago roared back from consecutive losses to beat Los Angeles in a six-game National League Championship Series and from a 3-1 deficit to beat Cleveland in the World Series.

This was baseball drama at its best, complete with a captivating narrative and engaging stars and management. It showed what a great product baseball delivers, and how it connects with the fabric of America as well as its fans around the world.

"The Cubs were a huge piece of the postseason success that we had,'' Manfred told reporters."But I look at it as a broader demonstration of the strength and potential of our sport. The Cubs are an example of the sort of story that helps us hold the amazing local audiences that we have all year into the playoffs, even after [somebody's] favorite team may fall out of the playoff picture.''

The beginning of a Cubs dynasty?

The Indians-Cubs World Series delivered ratings not seen since the D-backs rallied to deny the Yankees their fourth consecutive championship in 2001. According to Forbes Magazine, the Nielsen ratings were a 64 percent increase over the Giants-Royals series in 2014, which also went seven games, and a 48 percent increase over the Royals-Mets series last year, which went five games.

The Cubs' 10-inning, 8-7 victory in Game 7 gave Fox its strongest Wednesday night prime-time ratings since 2007. It even outdrew the dramatic LeBron James-Stephen Curry showdown in Game 7 of the NBA Finals by 33 percent.

It only figures that MLB is moving the Cubs' 2017 opener against the Cardinals up from Monday, April 3, to Sunday, April 2, so it can kick off ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball schedule. ESPN will also carry the Cubs' home opener against the Dodgers on April 10, when the team will celebrate its championship.

Will there be anyone at Wrigley Field not wearing World Series gear?.

Early reports suggested that an estimated $50-70 million in merchandise sales were reported within the first 24 hours of the Cubs' clinching victory. That almost guarantees sales leading up to the holidays will set a new standard for not only Major League Baseball but also for professional sports.

Manfred called it "a hot market that we think will be record-setting when the dust settles.''

But this isn't just about the Cubs. This is baseball that's being celebrated.

"We're not going to have the Cubs and 108 years every year,'' Manfred said. "But I think there are lots of compelling baseball stories that can help us produce the kind of postseason popularity that we enjoyed this year.''

Dan Halem, MLB's chief legal officer, updated owners on the ongoing negotiations with the Major League Baseball Players Association over a new labor deal. But there were no signs of the public hand-wringing of owners and executives that once accompanied the expiration of every collective bargaining agreement.

There have been differences between management and the players' union in the negotiations, with scheduling and the exploration of an international draft among the items in play. But Manfred remains intent about his goal to reach a deal before the current agreement's Dec. 1 expiration date.

"I remain optimistic that we're going to make a deal,'' Manfred said. "This process is not predictable in terms of time. I've said there were certain natural deadlines out there. The beginning of the [free-agent] market was one and the expiration of the agreement is another, and I'm hopeful that we're going to get a deal done before that latter deadline.''

Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.