MLB avoided disaster by agreeing to end lockout, but other risks remain

The empty fields of Salt River where Spring Training was supposed to take place at the Talking Stick in Phoenix, Arizona.

Patrick Breen | USA TODAY Sports

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred smiled broadly Thursday night when he announced the return of baseball.

After nearly 100 days of owner-imposed lockout, MLB on Thursday signed a new five-year collective bargaining agreement with the MLB Players Association. As part of the deal, players will see an increased minimum wage and a $50 million bonus fund for young players. Owners receive an extended 12-team postseason and jersey patches that generate new revenue.

But most importantly, MLB would play the full 162-game schedule after Manfred, and the team owners played with a “deadline” strategy and initially threatened to cancel games and not pay players.

“The way the collective bargaining process is designed to work in a position of power is really driven by two things,” Manfred said. “Time and economic leverage. No agreement will be made until these two things work in such a way that you find common ground. I think we made an agreement when it was possible to make an agreement.”

However, while the agreement and the entire season remained in place, MLB’s business could suffer some damage.

Los Angeles Dodgers center Cody Bellinger (35) steals second base as St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Tommy Edman (19) hits the last shot at Dodger Stadium in the 2021 National League Wild Card Game .

Robert Hanashiro | USA TODAY Sports

MLB teams miss sales season

Former MLB chief executive Marty Conway has been tracking the baseball team’s ninth stop since last December. He called the talks a “vicious negotiation period” for MLB and the players. Conway said the league needed to rebuild its image, especially in smaller markets.

“These periodic displays of grievances put pressure on the fact that [MLB’s image]”For some reason, baseball decided to flaunt their interaction more than the NBA and NFL,” Conway said. “And it hurts.”

Conway, now a professor of sports management at Georgetown University, said MLB clubs also missed “selling season.” This is when clubs promote new players, 2022 schedules, ticket packages and keep in touch with season ticket holders for renewals.

During the pandemic, MLB said 40% of its $10 billion business came from attendance, which has been declining over the years. MLB attracted a total of 45.3 million fans last season, in part due to pandemic-related restrictions. This is less than 68.5 million in the 2019 pre-pandemic season. MLB’s record attendance was 79.5 million fans in the 2007 season.

While MLB was busy with labor negotiations, the consumer price index rose, Russia went to war with Ukraine, gas prices jumped. This means that MLB clubs with a small market and non-competitive ones could be particularly hurt if cash-strapped fans can’t afford to spend the money on tickets.

The sales season may have helped solve this potential problem.

“This is very important,” Conway said. “The day after the previous season, you want to inform your fans about more than schedules, ticket prices and season ticket packages. The sales season is very important.”

He added: “There will be some markets where the rebound is going to be fast – Los Angeles, New York – but there are also a lot of markets – Baltimore, Tampa, Miami – they’ve had a whole winter where they couldn’t capitalize on the sale of the season.” .

On Thursday night, MLB apologized to fans.

“I know the last few months have been difficult. There was a lot of uncertainty at a time when there was a lot of uncertainty in the world. Kind of like how collective bargaining sometimes works,” Manfred said. “But I apologize for that.

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred answers questions during the MLB Owners’ Meeting at the Waldorf Astoria on February 10, 2022 in Orlando, Florida. Manfred addressed the ongoing player lockout that the owners imposed after the league’s collective bargaining agreement ended on December 1, 2021.

Julio Aguilar | Getty Images Sports | Getty Images

Manfred wants to mend broken relationships

The commissioner’s apology came after Manfred said he was “generally thrilled” that MLB had settled yet another labor dispute. And as a result, baseball again avoided losing revenue under the watchful eye of its commissioner.

On Wednesday night, MLB threatened to skip games until April 14 after previously postponing the first two episodes of the 2022 season – roughly 90 games. Manfred then said that players would not be paid for missed games.

“Let me talk about timing.” said Manfred on Thursday. “Using deadlines, extending them and deciding when to set them and when to back off is part of the art of collective bargaining.

“And it’s an art form that’s important in terms of closing the deal,” Manfred added.

Asked if MLB had been beaten because the players still retained a significant economic base during the lockout, Manfred replied that it wasn’t a matter of “who beat who.” He said: “I believe that there is only one victory, and that is getting an agreement. We have one.”

Manfred said he would be more diligent in building relationships with players, some of whom called for him to be fired. He then called the terms of the deal, which include increasing the minimum to $700,000 with an increase of $20,000 a year, an “olive branch” for players to repair broken relationships.

“One of the things I have to do is to keep a good relationship with our players,” said Manfred. “I tried to do it. I didn’t succeed.”

Manfred said he called MLBPA chief executive Tony Clark “and expressed his desire to work with him. And that will be my priority to try to keep the promise.”

Seattle Mariners shortstop JP Crawford (3) drops to third to advance in a sacrificial flight against the Oakland Athletics during the third inning at T-Mobile Park, September 28, 2021.

Joe Nicholson | USA TODAY Sports | Reuters

Player Injuries and Covid Issues

After the lockout ended, Conway suggested that the league should address fan dissatisfaction by relying on national events, including “Field of Dreams” game between Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds.

MLB returns to Dyersville, Iowa in a stadium built next to a cornfield, reprising a scene from the 1989 movie starring Kevin Costner. Last year’s Field of Dreams was a hit with Fox, averaging 5.9 million viewers.

In addition, Conway said that MLB will use fan gifts during the 2022 All-Star Game, which will be held in Los Angeles at Dodger Stadium. But the health of the players will be critical to the success of these national tournaments.

The lockout wiped out much of spring training as players prepared for a 162-game campaign. Typically, players have almost two months to prepare, but since MLB starts its year on April 7th, players only have three weeks.

On Friday, Clarke said players’ health was a concern with yet another cut in spring training. He referenced the 2020 MLB season when spring training was interrupted due to the pandemic.

After the shutdown of sports in March 2020, MLB didn’t resume until July – weeks before the start of the 60-game campaign. MLB is back on its 162-game schedule in 2021. But after a year in which Covid affected the daily routine of the players, a lot of injuries have accumulated.

Stan Conte, former MLB head coach, was mentioned last June in New York Times after noticing an increase in leg injuries, including hamstrings, during spring training 2021. Also, in season 2020stars including Giancarlo Stanton of the New York Yankees and Aaron Judge missed time with leg injuries.

“These (injuries) are always a concern,” Clarke said Friday, when asked by CNBC about the matter. He added that MLB players practice throughout the year, and “we find some comfort in that, but we always pay attention to how the schedule and how travel ties into it.”

Muscle overload can lead to injury as MLB needs to play roughly 90 games postponed due to the lockout. In the regular season – before Covid – that’s more than 39 MLB games rescheduled in 2019, 54 games in 2018, and more than 30 games in 2017.

MLB will use doubleheaders in most games in 2022, though it’s unclear how the league will reformat. But this can add three to five days to the season, which usually ends in early October.

Injuries aside, another problem for the MLBPA: unvaccinated players. Restrictions in Canada prevent unvaccinated players from entering the country. As such, players who miss Toronto games due to vaccination status will not receive their salary and will lose service time.

MLB told CNBC that 2021 data shows 81% of “Tier 1 staff,” including players and key personnel with access to players, have been fully vaccinated.

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