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MLB owners are willing to miss games. Guess who that hurts? Right, we the fans

Baseball owners seem to have forgotten one very important part of their business — their customers.

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Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

If you were cautiously optimistic over Monday’s report that MLB players and owners would meet for CBA negotiations for a second straight day, you might want to think again after reading this, via Evan Drellich at The Athletic:

In a meeting with the Players Association on Monday, Major League Baseball deputy commissioner Dan Halem said that MLB is willing to lose games over some of the outstanding issues the sides have, people with knowledge of the talks said. Whether Halem was issuing a threat, or merely providing a statement of the obvious — the owners did start a lockout, after all, and there’s been no agreement since, so what else would happen if there’s no movement? — depends on whom you ask. Some on the players’ side indeed thought it was notable that Halem would verbalize the possibility of missing games, that it did amount to a threat, while the commissioner’s office disagreed.

The headline to Drellich’s article called the talks “Heated MLB bargaining,” and that certainly doesn’t sound like a good sign. Neither does this:

Some on the players’ side were irked, too, by Rockies owner Dick Monfort, the chair of commissioner Rob Manfred’s seven-owner labor policy committee. Monfort, people with knowledge of the meeting said, complained about the difficulty at least some owners have affording teams, and the ancillary costs of ownership such as security and COVID-19 measures.

That sort of thing is definitely not what players want to hear from someone who’s part of an $11 billion business (even granted that MLB had some revenue losses from lack of ticket sales in 2020 and sales being down in 2021).

It’s absolutely not what baseball fans want to hear, and Britt Ghiroli of The Athletic went into that in an article headlined “The longer the MLB lockout goes, the clearer it gets that the real losers are the fans,” a sentiment I agree with 100 percent.

Ghiroli asks:

Will fans, some already turned off or tuned out this winter, still care by then? Will a country entering year three of a pandemic have much sympathy if — for the second time in three seasons — baseball plays an abbreviated schedule? Or will some fans go elsewhere? Will they find themselves, as I often do, reading about the NFL or the NBA with more frequency because baseball’s headlines are the same, frustrating mantra: no movement, no target start. There are no rumors right now. No speculation, no Hot Stove action.

Nothing to keep the diehard fan engaged, let alone the casual one.

If a professional baseball writer is reading more about the NFL and NBA, you can imagine what the casual fan is doing, especially since Major League Baseball has gone out of its way to pretend that its current players don’t exist:

The league’s websites are bare. MLB Network is prohibited from using the likeness of active players, while reporters for MLB.com aren’t allowed to write about them. In an unprecedented move compared to other leagues, teams can’t even allow their injured players to use their facilities and staff during a work stoppage. Everything the league can leverage, it has. But while the players’ shortsightedness is understandable given the quest to improve the game while they’re playing, the league’s is not. Who is ensuring the game is viable in 20 years, let alone 50? Shouldn’t those in it for the long haul care, just a little, about the viability of that product?

I cannot argue with any of this. I have tried, myself, to keep engaged with baseball and to keep you, the BCB reader, engaged with baseball by writing about the rich history of our favorite team and ballpark. While those memories of Cubs baseball are wonderful and reminiscing is fun, that’s not going to move the needle on the sport going forward. And make no mistake, Ghiroli agrees with me that this is all on ownership:

Perhaps the sport’s owners — who have rejected any changes to revenue sharing or discussion of paying players earlier in their career — are willing to sacrifice some fans or tickets sold if it means they can continue keeping profits high and payrolls low. After all, baseball shares revenue among teams more than any other professional sport; the owners enjoy an antitrust exemption that’s also unique to baseball. Billionaires with many tax loopholes fighting to keep its players, its product, from a bigger slice of the pie isn’t something the average fan can sympathize with.

A week ago, I wrote that this lockout puts MLB’s future in peril. I’m clearly not the only one who feels that way. Ghiroli’s article quotes some other fans who do, and many of you have expressed similar sentiments right here at BCB. Ownership continues down this road at great risk to their own businesses and to the sport we love.