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As MLB prepares a 2020 season proposal, revenue sharing could be part of the deal

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Everything’s very much up in the air.

Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve heard a number of different proposals to start a 2020 MLB season, but the sport’s executives seem to be coalescing around one specific idea which would be presented to players next week, according to Dave Sheinin of the Washington Post:

The proposal is expected to come within a week, a person familiar with MLB’s dialogue with the MLB Players Association confirmed. News of the expected proposal was first reported Wednesday by ESPN and the New York Post.

MLB would prefer to stage a three-week “spring training 2.0” in June and start playing games in July, a time frame it has been targeting for several weeks but one that would require ample lead time to allow teams and players to begin mobilizing — which is why the process is beginning now.

The games would be played at empty stadiums in teams’ home cities, according to the latest idea. That’s something that might not work in certain cities, including Chicago, as I noted in an article here on this topic a week ago:

... having any baseball activity in Wrigley Field would likely bring people out into the streets surrounding the ballpark, hoping that they could just be close to anything Cubs. This is something that the city of Chicago clearly wouldn’t want, and I doubt they’d want to have the streets surrounding the ballpark closed down for any significant length of time.

This is something that would have to be worked out logistically in Chicago as well as other MLB cities if such a plan is put in place by MLB owners and players.

Beyond this, Evan Drellich of The Athletic reports that a revenue-sharing system might be on the table, just for this season:

Some league officials and team executives believe the best plan for baseball in 2020 would include a totally revised economic system — a revenue-sharing arrangement between the players and teams, if only for one year.

Their argument: No one has any idea how many tickets will be sold to 2020 games, if any; to promise players a certain salary ahead of time could leave either party overly exposed to an extreme outcome.

Major League Baseball has not broached the idea of revenue sharing with the players’ union, and it may not. The Players Association would likely receive such a plan poorly, with suspicion the league would be trying to implement a long-term deal.

Drellich is right. Especially with the MLB/MLBPA collective-bargaining agreement set to expire after the 2021 season, players might indeed think this was a case of owners trying to get their foot in the door for some sort of permanent revenue-sharing system. Depending on what that system would be, it might work out poorly for players — or better. Consider this scenario:

“If we ended up playing and playing in front of full fans, for 82 games, it makes total sense that we would pay players’ full salaries,” one industry executive said. “If you’re in the more extreme where we have to play empty everywhere, that’s half the revenue that would have come in that’s not coming in anymore. We weren’t equipped or budgeting to pay full salaries for that.”

If the players do not budge, the owners could threaten not to play games at all.

As things stand, league officials say that on average, for every incremental regular-season game played without fans in 2020, teams would spend more money on player salaries than they would earn in revenue.

The Players Association believes the opposite: That for every regular-season game played, the league’s revenues exceed player salaries.

“Even if it were true, the league would come out well ahead if one includes postseason TV and other revenues,” was the union’s response.

Both of those claims could be true. Since the sport won’t open its books, we the general public will never know for certain. One thing is for certain: It doesn’t seem likely that any fans will be allowed at MLB games in 2020, no matter when they start up. For an example, look at the CPBL in Taiwan, which began games about four weeks ago in empty stadiums. Just today — Friday, May 8 — they began to allow fans back into their parks, but only 1,000 at a time, and socially distanced. I watched this game between the Fubon Guardians and the Uni-President Lions and almost all the fans shown in the stands were wearing masks, and were seated far from each other. That doesn’t seem like something that could be done in MLB parks.

The players and owners reached an agreement in March that will pay players a total of $170 million if there’s no season. Drellich’s article says player salaries and benefits came to about $4.7 billion in 2019. $170 million is only 3.6 percent of that total. There’s great incentive for players to want to play this year to earn a larger percentage of their salaries. However:

But most germane right now might be the union’s position that player compensation for 2020 need not be reduced further following a March agreement in which the players agreed to prorate their salaries in a shortened schedule. The Players Association likely would see any attempt to adjust the economics this year — be it via revenue sharing or another method — as an attempt to help only owners’ bottom lines, not players’.

“That negotiation is over,” MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said in an April statement.

Owners likely will differ from Clark’s conclusion.

And so, we wait. Perhaps there will be a bit more clarity next week when a proposal is formally presented to the MLBPA.

This leads me to something that I believe needs to be said at this time. I have relaxed the no-politics rule here at BCB during the pandemic. Many of the baseball-oriented topics here do lend themselves to some form of political commentary at this time. The novel coronavirus has taken away much of our baseball content, and since various government responses will determine when players can get back on the field, discussing that seems fair until baseball returns. However, I have noticed that many of the comments have become too partisan and too personal. BCB is really not the place for this sort of thing. I am thus asking everyone to please tone it down and try to keep any political comments directly related to our current situation in baseball. We want BCB to be a welcoming place for everyone. Thanks for understanding.