Despite teasing baseball fans with 7 different back and forth meetings on Monday, the MLB and MLBPA were still not in agreement on a new CBA. The fake deadline to not miss regular season games imposed by the owners was extended to 5pm on Tuesday and that has come and gone. The MLB has now cancelled opening day and the first two series of the season and it’s clear the owners are willing to miss a month of the regular season to try and leverage everything they can from the players union. To describe this whole situation as a shit-show would be too kind and the fact that Rob Manfred can’t get the job done and get players on the field is a failure of leadership. His comments about declining revenue for the league shortly after negotiations broke off on Tuesday should piss off anyone who cares about the game of baseball.
Rob Manfred: “The last five years were difficult from a revenue perspective.” In 2019, the last season before the pandemic, MLB revenues jumped for a 17th straight year to a record $10.7 billion, per Forbes.Tweet by @JMastrodonato on Tuesday shortly after the 5pm deadline passed
While both sides spent time going back and forth in some capacity every day for the past week, the owners seem to be unwilling to seriously compromise and even at times negotiate in good faith. They made it very clear they are willing to miss a month of games in order to get what they want and are trying to wear out the players to keep a few more dollars in their pockets. They obviously feel that by being millionaires and billionaires, they can absorb a hit like 30-40 fewer games easier than an MLB player making the minimum $570,500, which is true. Don’t get me wrong, I’d be thrilled with $500k+ per year in salary and as a whole it’s the rich fighting with the richer, but the tactics and unwillingness to budge more than a centimeter for the owners is brutal. Manfred isn’t helping the cause by spewing false rhetoric about revenues and profits being down. He clearly doesn’t have the leadership qualities needed to find a compromise and doesn’t seem to care about the damage that cancelling games could cause to the game long-term.
As a lifelong baseball fan, the idea that this negotiation is still going on and regular season games are being cancelled is beyond disheartening. I’m not going to claim that I won’t watch another game if this goes on longer, because those who are real fans of the game will come back in full force once the league gets back up and running, but prospective fans and those who are not as strongly connected to the sport may have a harder path to returning or beginning to watch. The constantly quoted demographic is the age of the average baseball fan compared to all the other major sports. The younger audience is not interested in the sport as it stands and won’t even have the chance to invest if there is no product on the field. Whatever little bit of positive public perception that was left for the MLB has surely taken a gut punch the past few months and will continue to nose dive as more games are inevitably cancelled.
One of the most heated debates on a baseball article I wrote as of late was when I expressed my excitement for the DH in both leagues. People came at me from all angles about how “this isn’t real baseball” and “it takes the strategy out of the game.” There was real passion for the game in many of those comments, but the attitude and direction was stuck in the past like many of the current owners. Evolution in sports is inevitable and if you can’t see that, you’re missing the bigger picture. From the addition of the 3pt line in basketball, to the shrinking of goalie pads in hockey, to the addition of padding and helmets in football, sports evolve to meet modern audiences and need to react (to some degree) to cultural shifts. For most baseball fans, if the game had not changed since the 1940s, the viewership and fan support would be significantly lower than it is today, regardless of where you like or agree with all of the changes that have been made.
Now is the time for owners to step back and appreciate the situation they are in and the responsibility they have in getting players back on the field. There is still compromise to be found on the players side as well, but the owners seem to be digging their heals in over what will amount to small changes in their bottom line when all is said and done. It doesn’t matter how well your “negotiations” go if the end result is a kick in the nuts to the entire sport you’re investing in and an ugly, public display of greed isn’t going to pull in the younger audience, or frankly any audience. The clock is ticking and with each passing hour, the sport I love is taking another public hit in the stomach. End this madness.