During the past couple of years, Major League Baseball (MLB) has been downgraded from “America’s Past-time,” to being labeled a sport of regional interest only. As much as I hate to admit it, despite MLB generating $10 billion in revenue in 2019, it has long since fallen behind the National Football League in fan interest. And that is where our discussion starts.
If you are a baseball fan, these are dark times in many ways. In addition to the obvious pandemic health crisis, as this portion of the column is being written Monday, Players and Owners seem to be embarking on a negotiation meltdown that could jeopardize the entire season. Money issues, the primary sticking point, come down to the Owners proposing a 50-50 revenue split of whatever income is generated for the 2020 season, while the Players want their salaries to be prorated, despite the fact there will be no fans in attendance at games for the foreseeable future.
Columnist Paul Sullivan, writing in the Chicago Tribune Sunday, May 24, said, “The Associated Press, citing a Major League Baseball document on the financial ramifications of paying pro-rated player salaries during an 82-game season with empty ballparks, reported the Chicago Cubs potential losses could be $199 million, fourth worst after the Yankees ($312 million), Dodgers ($232 million), and Mets ($214 million).” Sullivan added later, “The Cubs declined to comment on the AP report, but one source said the club would be better off financially, at least in the short term, if the season was canceled than if their players received pro-rated salaries combining for more than $100 million-or about half of the 2020 payroll.”
Another fact delineated by Sullivan was, “The Cubs say 70 percent of their revenue stems from ticket sales, concession, parking, in-house corporate partnerships and the like, which is much bigger than MLB’s reported average of about 40 percent in those areas for all 30 teams.”
With those economic facts, the Ricketts Family, the owners of the Cubs, have no economic motivation to get locked into a pro-rated salary expense, without any idea of how much revenue will be generated this season.
Despite the fact the National Football League, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League all have Player-Owner revenue sharing close to or at the 50-50 level, the MLB Players Union believes the current Owners’ economic offer is the first step toward a salary cap in baseball, which they will fight to their last collective bargaining breath. Recently, national sports commentators, who tend to side with players on salary issues, have been outspoken against the union, considering the special circumstances involved this year.
There is also a deadline approaching to make all of this work. Training camps need to re-open in the first week in June to get the players up to speed for the season. To get the 82-game schedule and Playoffs completed, either with or without fans, Opening Day is tentatively scheduled for July 4. Layer in very real issues relating to Player health and welfare that still need to be hammered out by the MLB Players Association and the Owners, a lot of ground in negotiations needs to be covered very quickly for there to be a 2020 MLB season.