On Monday the owners of Major League Baseball’s 30 clubs approved a plan put forth by the Office of the Commissioner for a 2020 season. That season would begin in early July with spring training mini-camps opening in mid-June, assuming the health situation allowed.
The announcement that a formal process was underway and a concrete plan to return the National Pastime to the field was unfolding elicited much excitement among fans of the game.
It was assumed by many that issue of health would be the major stumbling block. But positive signs regarding the pandemic have been growing since the calendar turned to May. Surely the odds were good that those concerns could be worked out by intelligent people, who would find a way to begin moving the game forward as society begins to again move forward.
After the first step of having a plan developed and the second of gaining the owners approval, the third step in the process could prove to be insurmountable in the end. The third step would be gaining the approval of the players. Movement towards that will begin today as the powers-that-be in the sport present their plan to the players.
Representative of MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) will sit down on Tuesday to begin negotiations. The plan cannot proceed and the game resume without the approval of the player’s union. That is not going to be an easy sell and, in fact, moving forward is going to require serious negotiations.
Word already leaking out from around the game reveals that many players and their agents have big-time problems with the owners proposal from a financial aspect. Many remain skeptical of the health situation being resolved appropriately as well. But before those health concerns can even be addressed, the financial aspects as being presented by the owners present a high enough hurdle themselves.
On the financial end, the players and owners reached an agreement back in late March regarding a potential 2020 season. In that agreement, the union accepted that players would be paid on a pro-rated basis this year and also greed not to file a grievance for the full money due in their contracts. In return, owners granted the players a full year of service time if no season was played, with all players receiving a minimum of whatever service time they had received from the 2019 campaign.
But with the new proposal the owners are changing the financial approach. Rather than pro-rated salaries, players would instead entering a 50/50 revenue-sharing plan. Per Bob Nightengale at USA Today, multiple sources have told him that “the historic revenue-sharing plan is integral in order to to address revenue losses with an 82-game season being played without fans beginning in July. MLB officials say that teams are expected to lose about 40% of their gross revenue from ticket sales, concessions and parking.”
That is going to be a non-starter for the players. According to Stephanie Apstein at Sports Illustrated, high-profile super-agent Scott Boras stated the following:
“The players I represent are unified in that they reached an agreement and they sacrificed anywhere from 30 to 40% of their salaries so that the games could amicably continue. The owners represented during that negotiation that they could operate without fans in the ballpark. Based on that, we reached an agreement and there will not be a renegotiation of that agreement.”
Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich at The Athletic reported an unnamed league official stating the following:
“We lose money on every single game (without fans). We have to propose that they take something less than they already negotiated. We thought the most persuasive way to make that proposal was to explain: here’s what we’re going to make in revenue and we’ll split it with you…We’ll give you this as a minimum, if we make more, we’ll give you half of what the more is.”
The response from union head Tony Clark went as follows, according to Rosenthal and Drellich:
“That the league is trying to take advantage of a global health crisis to get what they’ve failed to achieve in the past…suggests they know exactly how this will be received. None of this is beneficial to the process of finding a way for us to safely get back on the field and resume the 2020 season…”
Craig Edwards at Fangraphs writes that “MLB is still in a very good position with its television partners, and even getting 75% of non-stadium revenue would allow the league to break even without renegotiating the deal it previously agreed to with the players.”
With the current Basic Agreement between the players and owners due to expire after next season, there are union concerns that too many concessions now will be used against them in negotiating a new long-term deal with the owners.
The agreement reached back in March contained what appears to be an “out” for the owners in that it provides for the possibility of re-opening talks based on the possibility of having to start games where there are no fans. That will indeed be the case. Fans will not be in the ballpark as the proposed season opens and will likely still not be there when it closes.
So, that’s where baseball will begin later today. The owners know that there will likely be no fans in the stands all year. They believe that fact means negotiations with the players should take place on implementing revenue-sharing for this season. The players will never agree to any form of revenue-sharing.
If you were excited to see Major League Baseball in 2020 after Monday’s announcements, slow your roll. Before we can even get back to worrying about how the ongoing health situation may affect the game, someone is going to have to blink in regards to the fundamental economic issues.