“I see missing games as a disastrous outcome for this industry, and we’re committed to making an agreement in an effort to avoid that.”
Those were the words of Major League Baseball commissioner, Rob Manfred, a little over two weeks ago.
Despite reported optimism — optimism that now appears to have been a smokescreen from the league to blame the players — on the night of February 28th, MLB’s self-imposed deadline for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement before regular-season games were to be canceled, and an extended deadline to 5pm the following day, no deal was reached.
The “disastrous outcome” was confirmed when Manfred stepped to the podium yesterday with a chuckle and announced that the league had canceled the first two series of the season.
“I had hoped against hope that I would not have to have this particular press conference in which I am going to cancel some regular-season games,” Manfred said.
There’s a decent chance that more could follow given the rift between the two sides, but make no mistake, the blame for games being canceled lies firmly at the feet of the league.
“The reason we are not playing is simple. A lockout is the ultimate economic weapon,” Tony Clark, executive director of the MLBPA, explained on Tuesday. “In a $10 billion industry, the owners have decided to use this weapon against the greatest asset they have, the players.”
No, there’s no “both sides” to this. The 30 owners that Manfred represents have shown quite clearly over the past few months and even years that, as a group, they possess little regard for the league and sport they are a part of compared to their precious bottom line.
On second thoughts, disingenuous may have been putting it lightly for these owners.
The union waited patiently for 43 days after MLB enacted a lockout that Manfred said he hoped would “jumpstart” talks. When the league finally came back to the table, the players eventually budged from some of their main asks — changes to revenue sharing, shorter time to free agency, and fixing service time manipulation, just to name a few.
How did the league respond when the MLBPA made an offer with significant movement? Usually by leaking how unimpressed they were with the offer and, if the players were lucky, maybe bumping the league-minimum salary by a nickel. Does that sound like good faith?
Infuriating incremental offers continued and with little progress, the league created a self-imposed deadline to get a deal done in order the preserve the full 162-game schedule.
Both sides had a week of negotiating in the lead-up to the newly-created deadline. The owners kept up the charade with their small tweaks while the players started to back off some of their major asks which got them to Monday and MLB’s so-called “deadline day.”
As the deadline approached, which conveniently moved to the following day after reports from leagues sources suggested that progress was being made into the early hours, the league stepped up with its final and best offer before the deadline passed.
What changed in the offer compared to their previous one? An extra $5 million on the pre-arbitration bonus pool and $25,000 added to the league minimum. That was it.
Hardly the sign of a side trying to get a deal done before the deadline. It made it look like the league was more than willing to keep the status quo with small increments for a while longer.
But to put it in full context, what has MLB actually conceded compared to the expired CBA?
- A $30 million bonus pool for pre-arbitration players
- A $129,500 bump in league minimum salary that isn’t much ahead of inflation from the start of the previous CBA
- An increase of around $10 million for the Competitive Balance Tax thresholds, nowhere near in line with the massive increase in revenue in recent years
- A draft lottery for the five teams with the worst record in baseball
- Other minor points around service time, forfeiting draft picks and limiting options
Monetarily, according to MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand, that amounts to about $500 million extra going to the players over the course of the CBA, or roughly $100 million per season.
However, attached to those are two lucrative additional revenue streams for the league.
First, according to Andrew Marchand of The New York Post, with playoff expansion to 12 teams, MLB would be set to net an additional $85 million a year from ESPN — if it were to go up to 14 teams, something that has been discussed, that would rise to $100 million per year.
Oh look, that’s almost all of the money they’re putting towards the players back in one fell swoop!
The second from the advertising patches, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported that “between uniform patches and helmet decals, teams would be expected to generate at least $150 million [a year].”
As long as the owners still get those two, they’ve shown that they’re more than happy to sacrifice Opening Day and likely more games on top of that in order to pry as much money out of the next CBA rather than negotiate with the intent of getting back on the field.
It doesn’t matter to the owners that previous CBAs were incredibly favorable to them and that they fully exploited them in order to maximize profits instead of making their teams competitive. Their insatiable greed has unsurprisingly continued, riling up the players in the process as they now try to fight back for their fair share and for the game itself.
And while they disguise their cash grab under the name of CBA negotiations, they’re trying to pipe out a completely different narrative through Manfred and their other sources.
The owners want you to believe that a 14-team playoff field is bringing excitement to September baseball with more teams in the running instead of an extra chance for a TV deal and a way for teams to not spend as much and stumble backward into the postseason.
They would like you to think that running a baseball team isn’t profitable at all and that “the last five years have been very difficult years from a revenue perspective” despite team revenue continuing to grow at an exponential pace, with only a small hiccup during the pandemic.
And the league has consistently pushed that the proposals the players have put forward would be a burden to the competitive balance of the league when the teams are doing a mighty fine job of that right now by suppressing payrolls and treating the CBT as a salary cap.
Don’t fall for it. Don’t let them hide behind these tired narratives that don’t hold up to the slightest scrutiny, especially when the modern baseball fan has easy access to more information than ever that clearly disproves the pathetic excuses.
If only the league cared even half as much about baseball as its fans and players, maybe Opening Day would’ve stood a chance at surviving. Now it’s just another piece of collateral damage in the owner’s quest to bleed the sport of every last cent...