There has been some brave talk by both MLB owners and the MLB Players Association that negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement could continue as soon as tomorrow, per Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post. Possible, I suppose, but that doesn’t mean we’d be any closer to an agreement between the parties as we were when Commissioner Rob Manfred cancelled the first two series of the regular season.
Curiously, only four days’ worth of Spring Training games were cancelled. MLB had announced that if a deal had been reached Tuesday, March 1, that spring games would begin a week from that date, Tuesday, March 8.
If you look at the Cubs’ schedule for March — and I assume other teams’ are similar — you’ll see spring games still scheduled beginning Saturday, March 12. (You can even still buy tickets for those games, if you are so inclined. Can’t imagine anyone will do that.) I suppose that’s an indicator that MLB thinks they can get a deal done within the next few days and begin spring games then.
Even so, we’re probably right back where we were Tuesday, with the “last best offer” being made by MLB, and that not being acceptable to players. There seems to be some dispute over exactly what wording was used there, incidentally. “Last, best offer” is a technical labor term in negotiations like this. Once management has made such an offer, if it’s not accepted they can declare “impasse” and institute their offer. MLB has claimed that hasn’t happened yet. Players say it has. We’ll have to see where that goes.
I don’t want to belabor “sides” today, because we the fans are the ones who are losing. We have supported this sport through our dollars, whether buying tickets, concessions or merchandise, but also through cable, satellite and streaming subscriptions and buying products of MLB’s corporate sponsors. Let me be clear: MLB is an $11 billion annual business largely because of the TV and sponsor money (and, they hope soon, gambling cash, which is a whole ‘nother set of potential problems). All this money has already been taken in by baseball. Players are simply asking for a more equitable division of the pie. Here’s where I show you exactly what I mean in a chart:
Ticket revenue is a shrinking portion of that pie — about 40 percent at last count. Further, every single person here should read this article by Rob Mains at Baseball Prospectus headlined The Relationship Between Player Salaries and Ticket Prices. Here’s that relationship: There isn’t one. It’s just that simple. I’m not going to try to summarize Mains’ article in a paragraph or two quoted here. Just read it. It’s not behind BP’s paywall, it’s open to all.
Now that we have that cleared up, I want to talk a bit about the ancillary damage this lockout is causing to others who depend on baseball for some or all of their livelihood. The Cubs have several hundred office employees combined on the baseball and business side, from baseball analytics guys to scouts to accountants and the folks who run the ticket office. Some of these people are personal friends of mine and I feel bad for them that they’ve been put in a position where teams might feel, with no revenue coming in, that they have to let people go. I hope that doesn’t happen. And make no mistake, it’s not just no ticket revenue for now. It’s TV rights fees that have to be rebated if there are no games. It’s sponsorships that might also have to be partly refunded if the sponsor doesn’t get the “impressions” they want from being exposed to fans.
And then there are the many hundreds, even thousands in Chicago with two ballparks, who work as gameday staff. There are ushers and security staff and supervisors and concession workers and cleaning staff, among many, none of whom will have any work this spring and summer if there are no games. Many of these folks are teachers, who find it a good job to work on weekends while school is in session and then to fill their summer with work and baseball. Again, I have made many good friends among the Wrigley Field gameday staff and I feel awful that these people will not have this work for now the second time in three years. The first time, in 2020, was no one’s fault due to the pandemic. This time is totally avoidable.
There are also many other businesses affected by this. Near Wrigley Field there are restaurants, bars, souvenir shops and others who won’t benefit from the crowds attending games. Some businesses like this closed in 2020. That could happen again.
Maybe they’ll figure this out. Maybe they’ll even find a way to restore the handful of games that have been cancelled — honestly, it’s not that hard, they did it in 1990 when there was a lockout, they can do it again — and we can have a full baseball season.
I did promise not to belabor “sides” here, but I would like you to read several things from others. First is an excellent article written by my former SB Nation colleague Grant Brisbee, now with The Athletic. He lays out very clearly why this is all on ownership:
Now consider what the players are asking for. You’ll read things like, “Oh, both sides have to make concessions,” but this ignores that the players are not asking for this system to be blown up. They’re not asking for a revolution. Even with their most recent proposal, they’re conceding that the basic framework of this system remains intact. Young players will still be underpaid relative to their production. There will still be artificial restrictions on free-agent spending. The players are asking for the young players to continue to be underpaid, just less so. They’ve given up on eliminating the artificial restrictions, they’re just asking for them to be slightly less onerous.
The owners are saying no. Also, they want more postseason teams to make more money. They will not be sharing this extra money, either. They’re willing to eat a month of the season to crush the union even more, even with revenues at an all-time high.
The bottom line is the players union actually bargained, making concessions to try to get a deal done while also trying to address issues such as tanking that affect everyday fans. The owners basically offered the status quo, including a slight increase to the threshold for the competitive balance tax (the so-called luxury tax) in 2022 and keeping it flat the next two years.
Revenues assuredly will go up in baseball, but the luxury tax threshold won’t increase until 2025? You don’t have to have a degree in economics to understand that’s a bad deal for players.
It is easier to win with a bigger budget, obviously. But some small-market teams deserve to be doormats because of bad decisions. Nobody forced the Pittsburgh Pirates to trade three dynamic young players to Tampa Bay for Chris Archer. Nobody forced the Baltimore Orioles to gut their budget for international talent so they could build around Chris Davis.
The union wanted the luxury-tax thresholds to start at $238 million in 2022 and rise to $263 million by 2026. With franchise values soaring and lucrative cable and streaming contracts, that hardly seems like an outrageous ask. Yet the league’s proposal peaked at $230 million in 2026. Not even close.
As I’ve said many times over the past couple of months, this is Rob Manfred’s and the owners’ lockout. The owners initiated it. The owners waited over seven weeks to come to the bargaining table. The owners barely moved off their opening offer for another month and a half after that. The owners imposed a fake deadline for a deal. The owners canceled Opening Day. The owners could end this lockout and begin the season at any time. They could do it even without an agreement on a new CBA. They could, as they did in 1995 and 1996, play baseball under the old deal while still negotiating the terms of a new deal. To the extent there is no baseball in 2022, it’s 100% because the owners don’t want there to be baseball.
This is all on them. Anyone who tells you different is blowing smoke.
Or go read today’s Outside The Confines, which contains links to several other articles that essentially say the same thing.
That’s it. It really is that simple. If you don’t believe all of that, maybe you’ll believe Max Scherzer, who would have been one of the highest-paid (if not THE highest-paid) players in MLB this year:
Max Scherzer said the goal of the players union isn't to get more money in free agency, it's to get younger players paid better and earlier. pic.twitter.com/40ZDaCsghS— Brad Galli (@BradGalli) March 2, 2022
Make a deal, guys. One that’s fair to everyone. It’s within reach. Considerable damage has already been done to the sport we all love, and that damage grows every day this lockout continues. Speaking of damage, look at this quote from Toronto Blue Jays player rep Ross Stripling:
As Monday turned into Tuesday and talks continued late into the night, some players got the impression owners were underestimating them.
“It got to be like 12:30 and the fine print of their CBT proposal was stuff we had never seen before,” Stripling said. “They were trying to sneak things through us, it was like they think we’re dumb baseball players and we get sleepy after midnight or something. It’s like that stupid football quote, they are who we thought they were. They did exactly what we thought they would do. They pushed us to a deadline that they imposed, and then they tried to sneak some shit past us at that deadline and we were ready for it. We’ve been ready for five years. And then they tried to flip it on us today in PR, saying that we’ve changed our tone and tried to make it look like it was our fault. That never happened.”
Stripling, incidentally, has a degree in finance from Texas A&M and is a licensed stockbroker and investment advisor by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).
The term “bargaining in good faith” is, again, a technical part of labor law and I don’t want to misspeak about it. But if you use the words “in good faith” as they are generally understood in human discourse, what Ross Stripling describes above ain’t it.
I’m going to give the last word here to someone we all loved for quite a long time (and always will as a Cubs World Series champion) and who, despite being traded away last summer, still feels like a Cub in many ways (and notice that the logo on his foundation’s Twitter account still has Cubs colors and his Cubs No. 44):
To the fans we will miss you most. To the younger generation of baseball players, this is for you.— Anthony Rizzo (@ARizzo44) March 1, 2022