MLB ended a challenging year with the Braves vs. Astros

Atlanta Braves pitcher Will Smith (left) rejoices with catcher Travis D’Arnot after beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 4-2 in Game 6 of the 2021 National League Series at Truist Park on Saturday, October 23, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. …

Valley Scaly | Los Angeles Times | Getty Images

The Atlanta Braves last won the World Series in 1995, ushering in a new era in Major League Baseball.

As the team returns to MLB’s biggest leg for the first time this millennium, the league faces another potential wave of change.

The Braves will play against the Houston Astros in the 2021 World Series starting on Tuesday. The last time the Braves lifted the World Series trophy was the first MLB championship since the strike that destroyed the 1994 title streak.

MLB looks different now, in no small part because the team that Atlanta beat in 1995, the Cleveland Indians, will receive a new nickname next year. Cleveland will change its name to Sentinels after sustained pressure to drop a name that critics consider racist. Atlanta has kept its name amid similar calls.

Atlanta’s return to the World Series coincides with potential labor issues that threaten to derail the league. As the MLB Championship wraps up a tough year for baseball, that’s where the league is.

The World Series is a rich irony

Carlos Correa # 1 of the Houston Astros participates in a pre-World Series training session against the Atlanta Braves at Minute Maid Park on October 25, 2021 in Houston, Texas.

Carmen Mandato | Getty Images

Atlanta has been embroiled in a controversy that transcends the world of baseball. After Georgia officials passed the restrictive voting law, MLB moved the 2021 All-Star Game to Denver from Atlanta.

The league received praise and backlash for this decision. President Joe Biden supported MLB’s move. Braves owner Liberty Media was upset and Atlanta tourism officials claimed $ 100 million in damages. The conservative group has sued the league for more than 1 billion dollars at a loss.

Former MLB CEO Marty Conway called the 2021 World Series “rich in irony” due to the presence of the teams. He noted that MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred “must present the World Series trophy either in Houston or Atlanta,” where he may face backlash.

Additional drama around the Braves and Astros could increase MLB’s audience, added Conway, former Special Assistant to former MLB Commissioner Peter Uberroth.

“It’s a bit like WWE,” said Conway, now a professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. “You have to have drama and characters, and I think that gives some of the possibilities that they have with the settings.”

MLB will see if storylines can help World Series viewers get back to normal before the pandemic.

Last year, the Los Angeles Dodgers won their first World Series since 1988. But due to consumer habits and the sheer number of sports TV shows, the six-game series averaged 9.7 million viewers. Including 9.1 million for Game 1, the least watched World Series game in history.

The 2019 World Series attracted 23 million viewers for Game 7 between the Astros and Washington Nationals. On average, the series has amassed about 13 million viewers.

The 2018 five-game world streak between the Red Sox and the Dodgers attracted an average of about 14 million viewers. Astros victory in the 2017 World Series over the Dodgers brought the average 18.9 million viewers more than seven games.

Manfred is a labor optimist

By the time the World Series ends, the league will have to worry about labor issues.

MLB’s collective bargaining agreement with players expires on December 1st. Another strike looms unless both sides agree to a new deal or renew the current pact.

The last strike in 1994 was the longest in MLB history and led to the cancellation of the first World Series since 1904.

Among the issues at stake are additional playoff games that will spark talk of new revenue sharing. The manipulation of service times, which helps determine how much players can earn, is a concern, especially after the former Seattle Mariners executive admitted to cheating on the system. The addition of a versatile designated hitter is also controversial.

Conway said MLB is heading for a “difficult winter” as working negotiations intensify. As the league develops a new employment agreement, corporate sponsors could freeze league and team revenues.

Earlier this month at the Sports Business Journal conference, Manfred described himself as a “labor optimist.”

Manfred needs to shine in this part of the MLB business. Under former MLB boss Bad Seliga, Manfred has been in charge of labor relations and preventing lockouts for the past 26 years, including the current five-year CBA.

The commissioner declined to go into details of recent talks with MLBPA chief executive Tony Clarke, but predicted the deal could take place by December 1.

When asked if he agreed that the deal could be reached by that projected date, Conway replied in the negative. He explained that the union will have more leverage in talking about spring training. At this point, MLB games are in danger and the owners could lose money.

But even if MLB were locked out, it is unlikely that they will be able to repeat the 1994 lockout.

“The numbers are in terms of what players are doing now and what the franchise is valued at – I don’t think they want to play roulette,” Conway said.

Major League Baseball Commissioner Robert D. Manfred Jr. presents the Commissioner Trophy to Houston Astros owner Jim Crane after the Astros beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 7 of the 2017 World Series at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday, November 1, 2017 in Los Angeles. , California.

Alex Trautwig | Getty Images

Regional MLB issues

In addition to World Series viewers, MLB’s media rights are protected for the next decade. The deals include over $ 3 billion in WarnerMedia. MLB will also receive approximately $ 728 million a year from Fox Sports, which owns the rights to the World Series.

Fox also benefited this year from the Field of Dreams telecast, which attracted 5.9 million viewers. MLB will play this themed game again in 2022.

MLB has a weekday package that ESPN has dropped the update, but it has an even bigger problem on the regional sports front.

Sinclair has local rights to 14 MLB teams on its Bally Sports channels and pays sports leagues. over $ 1 billion in rights fees… But it doesn’t have a streaming strategy to deal with cutting the cord.

Earlier this month, Manfred dealt another blow to Sinclair’s streaming ambitions by saying the company lacks the power to create digital offerings for MLB consumers. Manfred then added that additional streaming rights would come at a price.

The release is not ideal for MLB. The league continues to depend on regional sports networks to participate in its games. It uses regional sports network channels for MLB.TV, a non-market streaming service.

More than 10 billion minutes have been used by the service this season, according to MLB. Marketing company Playfly Sports said 85% of MLB viewers come from RSN networks.

In addition, MLB rights are the backbone of sports networks as they offer the largest ad inventory throughout the league’s 162-game campaign. This income helps RSN stay afloat.

Playfly CEO Michael Schreiber called MLB’s local audience “stable.” He added that sporting intimacy “is the only thing that will sustain itself. The question is, how can you reshape the media market at this level?”

“This will have the biggest impact on local franchises,” Georgetown’s Conway added, referring to local media revenues. “These contracts are the most important in every baseball market. I think the fact that the future of these payments remains uncertain should be the number one problem. ”

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