How baseball wasted glorious chance to boost popularity
Back in March, in the looming shadows of a global sporting shutdown, Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association agreed to a deal that would see players prorate their pay over whatever season was about to happen.
If the season played all 162 games, then they would be paid a full salary. If there was a 100-game season their salary would be divided by 162, and they would be paid for 100 games – simple, and at the time a leading move.
Skip forward two-and-a-half months and the whole season could be at risk after owners backtracked on the deal and asked for staggered salary reductions.
The owners felt, after looking at the books, that with no fans being allowed at games, they couldn’t keep the league sustainable, so they came forward with an alternative. The more prominent stars on multi-million dollar contracts take a more significant percentage cut, and those younger less-paid players feel the damage less as they take more nominal cuts.
The proposal was rejected by the player association, which pointed to the previously agreed deal and the lack of clarity from the owners.
Juxtaposed to the current battle at the top of the baseball pyramid, basketball’s NBA and its players’ association are in daily contact and have agreed to resume the season with a tournament format that will see all teams who were still in contention for the play-offs get a fair shot.
Across in ice hockey’s NHL, the supporters are excited and poised for one of the most exciting postseason tournaments ever offered to them. The league asked the players of the teams to vote on a competition that would end many teams’ season, and all but two voted for it – the two who didn’t return a vote were Tampa Bay Lightning and Carolina Hurricanes, both of whom are in the new play-offs.
Considered America’s pastime, baseball has been on a steady but slow decline when it comes to buy-in from the American public. The seemingly endless season means losing 75 of the 162 games still allows a team a little above average a play-off spot. That mixed with the absence of a celebrity figurehead, like the NBA’s LeBron James or Steph Curry, means that baseball is at risk of slipping to its lowest level ever in the hierarchy of sport.
Kudos must be given to some teams; not those in the significant metropolitan areas like New York and LA but to those in much smaller markets like Milwaukee and San Diego, where the teams remain integral to the community. These teams survive on TV money, but getting young fans through the door gets that TV money ten years down the line.
Baseball was ideally placed to be the leading light in world sports as everyone tries to emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic. They could run the season from dual locations. Currently, pre-season is split into two leagues – The Cactus in Arizona and The Grapefruit in Florida, where teams spend the month of March playing “friendlies”.
But once again, money talks and the consideration for those who pay the salaries and profits has been thrown aside.
With the now planned resumption of the NBA and NHL, Major League Baseball has wasted an opportunity to make itself relevant again. The needless battle between billionaires and millionaires has ruined its chance to be, as it was during World War II, the only sports people could watch.
Moreover, while at the top of this oligarchy the players and owners sit in mansions knowing they banked eight-figure salaries last year, minor league players, most of whom are under 26 and work second jobs during the offseason, are being cut from organisations trying to make savings.
Major League Baseball was presented with the rarest of things during the global pandemic: an opportunity to grow its stature, a chance to be a leading light once again, to engage with its fanbase and rebuild America’s passion for the sport. Instead, it resorted to miserly, mean negotiations that have slammed the door on maybe its last chance to grasp a global audience.
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