Major League Baseball and the MLBPA are currently negotiating a deal to start the 2020 season, but there are some hurdles to get over before we could see a start date. And given what we seem to know so far about the negotiations, the battle between the two sides can’t last too long. Why? Because both sides simply can’t afford a long battle.
MLB and MLBPA Negotiations
On Monday, multiple news outlets reported that MLB owners agreed on a plan to start the 2020 season in early July. The plan would reportedly see players return to their teams and participate in a condensed Spring Training schedule that may take place either in Florida/Arizona (depending on where their team’s Spring Training site is) or at teams’ home facilities. From there, a condensed regular season of 82 games would start in July, and the season would at least start without any fans in the seats (however, it’s almost guaranteed at this point that no fans will be admitted to attend 2020 games). Also, several new additions would include a universal DH (at least for this year), limited travel, shared revenue between the players and owners, and a 14-team playoff format.
The proposal was reportedly greeted with disapproval by the MLBPA, which has heavily resisted the idea of revenue sharing between players and owners for years. The MLBPA feels that any system that institutes some sort of revenue split resembles a salary cap, something that the players have opposed for years (Does anyone remember 1994?). This, along with making sure that players are comfortable with all medical protocols and testing procedures necessary to commence the season, appear to be the two major issues splitting both sides at the moment.
2 key hurdles to an agreement: 1. making players comfortable with protocols/personnel/equipment that play can resume safely. 2. Can the sides agree how players will be paid. MLB offering rev sharing plan. Union saying that is a non-starter.
— Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) May 11, 2020
The issues of testing and medical protocols are critical to getting the 2020 season underway, but in reality, those two problems may not be what holds up both sides in these negotiations. Rather, the issue of player pay and a revenue split may very well be what does in the 2020 season, and if that is the case, it could cause some serious damage to the brand of MLB.
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Right now, we live in a world of economic uncertainty. Unemployment is at Great Depression-like levels, businesses have been forced to close due to stay-at-home orders, and quite a few of those businesses will never open again. While the MLBPA does have every right to negotiate for the best deal possible, it would behoove both sides in these negotiations to compromise significantly for a couple of reasons.
One, team revenues will be severely impacted by the lack of fans in the stands. With no gate revenue coming in this year, MLB owners, who also have to pay other team employees (trainers, baseball operations officials, marketing and communications officials, just to name a few), as well as the employees of other businesses they may own, will look to cut in as many areas as they can. The players may not want to hear that (and I don’t blame them), but that’s just the economic reality.
But on top of this, the brand of MLB could also be negatively impacted by any prolonged negotiation. If both sides come out of these negotiations looking like greedy snobs who are unwilling to compromise on a pay structure, the league could receive heat from the fans ala 1994, when an August strike canceled the remainder of the regular season plus the World Series. When the strike was finally resolved in 1995, players came back to the ballpark, but it came at a price. Teams reported significantly lower attendance figures following the strike, and some fans swore off baseball for good.
The 1994-1995 strike made MLB players look greedy and selfish. And if pay proves to be too large of a wedge to move in 2020, players could be looked at similarly once again.
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