The NFL, NBA, NHL, MLS, WNBA, NASCAR, tennis, golf, world soccer leagues, WWE, UFC, horse racing, boxing, auto racing, and smaller sports leagues worldwide have all figured out how to resume action after the COVID pandemic. MLB? Not so much. What a mess.
Different news and plans leak seemingly every day. The owners, Commissioner Rob Manfred, and his deputy Dan Halem issue threats and hollow financial statements one after another. Tony Clark and the MLB Players Association want their cut of the money and seem to antagonize the owners at every turn, often via social media.
So what does it mean? Well, for starters, the one group that keeps MLB in business is getting screwed. The fans once again have no stake in the negotiations, and if history has shown us anything, fans have long memories and are not quick to forgive and forget.
Whether in MLB in 1981 or 1994-95, the NBA in 1999 and 2011, the NFL in 1982 and 1987, or the NHL in 1992, 1994-95, 2004-05 and 2012-13, leagues have suffered at the gate when they miss games. Will that happen with the COVID background and empty stadiums this time around? Time will tell when we get to the 2021 season if, and it’s a big IF, games happen and fans are allowed.
What’s the Issue?
Well, the big issue is, of course, money. The owners are crying poor, and, come on, we all know that’s a sham.
They don’t want to pay the players if there isn’t a 162-game season, well at least not what they would normally earn.
Nearly every single proposal from MLB was the same: 33% of their normal salary for the players no matter how many games played. The players proposed more games and full pro-rated salaries after already giving up a cut of their money in a March agreement. The players also proposed playing into November, or even December, a notion flat out refused by the owners and Manfred.
On top of all this back and forth, MLB signed an extension to their national TV deal with Turner Sports bumping the annual revenue from $350 million to nearly $500 million. This agreement had the union calling for MLB to open their books after numerous owners have spoken out recently about not being able to turn a profit.
Honestly, no one knows. At the MLB Draft last Wednesday, Rob Manfred said live on ESPN that playing games this year was “a 100% certainty. Unequivocally, we are going to play.” Five days later, he said, again on ESPN, that he was “not confident” about a season. This entire thing is like the weather in the Midwest, want a new answer? Just wait a few hours.
So far, this is the worst ‘he said, she said’ battle we’ve ever seen. Manfred can enforce a 48-to-54 game season as agreed upon in the last CBA under a national emergency clause.
The owners worry the union will file a grievance at this point and accuse them of “not using their best efforts to play as many games as possible” as agreed to in March. The players have said “Tell us when and where. We’re ready,” but there are still no games.
If we are to get a 50ish game season, a schedule needs to be set soon to get the regular season completed by the owners’ precious October 1 date. Assuming the players need 3-4 weeks to get into game shape and play 50 games in 60 days or so, July 1 seems like the last date to reach an agreement. At this point, the survival of MLB may depend on it.