MLB owners locked out players when the collective bargaining agreement with the MLBPA expired late on December 1. It’s had no practical impact on the sport thus far, as there aren’t any games in December, so teams aren’t losing revenue, and players don’t get paid in the offseason, so they’re not losing money. All we’ve lost so far are potential trades and free-agent signings, and what we’ve “gained” is the spectacle of the sport wiping MLB.com free of any images of or articles about current MLB players, something they probably didn’t have to do.
The sides haven’t had any significant discussions since the lockout began and now, per Evan Drellich in The Athletic, aren’t likely going to until the calendar turns to 2022:
A union source said Wednesday that since the sides met in Texas in the days leading up to the lockout, the union hasn’t heard from the league on any key economic issues. Now, the union hasn’t reached out on those issues either. But the MLBPA’s lead negotiator, Bruce Meyer, made clear when the lockout started the union felt it was incumbent on MLB to issue the next counterproposal.
“We’ve attempted to follow the usual process making proposals,” Meyer said Dec. 2. “We made a major proposal in Dallas this week, which in our view, gave the league significant economic benefits. The league chose not to make a counter. But we stand ready, as Tony (Clark) said, to continue negotiating.”
Commissioner Rob Manfred said in Texas that the league did make a proposal, one “that if it had been accepted, I believe would have provided a pretty clear path to make an agreement.”
Well, sure it would, Rob, because MLB’s proposal was heavily slanted toward ownership’s side.
So if you’re wondering why you haven’t heard anything in the two weeks since the lockout began, that’s why. There’s no sense of urgency, because there won’t be anything missed by baseball until pitcher and catcher report dates in mid-February, and no actual money will be lost by teams unless spring training games, scheduled to begin the last weekend of February, are cancelled.
And so, per Drellich:
There’s little compelling them to change their positions at this point (save for the damage of having a sport that’s frozen, but the owners were, clearly, willing to take on that risk).
The calendar, and specifically, the approach of spring training in early February, will create leverage for both sides. But that means that in January a lot of work will need to be completed in about a month’s time, or less, if spring training is to start on time.
The later this happens, the bigger the frenzy for the still-unsigned free agents. Will those FA still hold out for the big paydays they hope for? Or will they reduce their salary requests just so they can get into camp and play baseball in 2022? The latter is clearly what ownership hopes for. On the other hand, owners shelled out nearly a billion dollars’ worth of contracts in the week before the lockout was called, so they can hardly cry poor.
There’s one other thing owners ought to keep an eye on, as noted in this Ad Age article by Jon Springer:
Although most experts contacted by Ad Age anticipate there would be minimal impact to brands if a resolution can be reached in short order, all of them predicted catastrophic consequences should the season be delayed.
“If [a settlement] doesn’t happen soon, it will be devastating, especially for a league that’s fighting to stay relevant and grow a new audience,” said Adam Holt, senior VP of sales and partnerships of FanAI, a software company that helps brands measure return on their sports marketing ventures.
The average age for nationally televised games in 2019 was 57, according to data shared with Ad Age earlier this year by Omnicom-owned agency Optimum Sports, underscoring the sport’s need to create excitement with younger viewers and not lose continuity with existing fans.
There’s no doubt that any uncertainty regarding when (or whether!) baseball will start in 2022 could cause issues with marketers who would likely right now be working on deals with MLB and its teams, but can’t due to that uncertainty.
Repeat after me: “As always, we await developments.”