MLB canceled games. What happens now?
By James Wagner
On Tuesday, Major League Baseball and the players’ union failed to strike a new labor contract by the league’s self-imposed deadline.
After nine consecutive days of face-to-face talks, MLB presented what it considered its best and final offer. The union rejected it and just minutes after the deadline passed, Commissioner Rob Manfred held a news conference in which he announced that the first two series of the regular season were canceled, a move he had called “disastrous” just a month before.
“We worked hard to avoid an outcome that’s bad for our fans, bad for our players and bad for our clubs,” Manfred said at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Florida, the spring training home of the St. Louis Cardinals and the Miami Marlins. “I want to assure our fans that our failure to reach an agreement was not due to a lack of effort by either party.”
The games are the first missed because of a work stoppage since the 1994-95 players’ strike, which resulted in the loss of more than 900 games, including the 1994 World Series. That remains the longest work stoppage in baseball history, followed by this lockout.
There are a lot of questions about what happens next — and more will arise — but some answers are known.
Q: How did we get here?
A: A collective bargaining agreement is the labor document between management (the owners of MLB’s 30 clubs, in this case) and laborers (the players), and it governs the league. The sides have been discussing a new five-year CBA since last spring.
The past two agreements were viewed as having further tilted the balance of power and economics in the owners’ favor. And players — who have been frustrated with salaries that haven’t kept pace with club revenues, how younger players are being relied upon more but paid comparatively little, and the lack of competition among some teams — have been seeking a series of changes. The owners, though, believe the players have a fair system.
After the owners locked out the players on Dec. 2, talks did not begin between the parties until Jan. 13, and they were sporadic until a frantic push in the final week before the deadline to cancel games.
After a 16 1/2-hour marathon negotiating session Monday that bled into Tuesday morning, MLB said it believed there had been enough progress made to extend the deadline to 5 p.m. Tuesday. The union, though, expressed caution at the muted optimism because of the sizable gaps that remained.
Tension rose Tuesday when MLB bristled at the union’s counterproposal in the afternoon; accused the union of changing its tone, which angered some players; and said it would present its so-called best and final offer before the deadline. The players rejected that proposal and then Manfred canceled games.
Q: What are the issues?
A: There are many. Among the biggest areas of disagreement as of Wednesday: league minimum salaries, a new bonus pool created to reward young players not yet eligible for salary arbitration and the luxury tax system.
Q: How many games will be missed?
A: A series in baseball is anywhere between two to four games. For defending champion Atlanta, for example, the games from March 31 to April 5 were wiped off the schedule by Manfred’s announcement. Those were originally a season-opening three-game series against the Marlins in Miami and a two-game series against the Mets in New York. So, roughly, at least 150 games across MLB were canceled.
(Spring training games, which were originally supposed to start Feb. 26, will begin no earlier than March 12, according to Atlanta’s website as of Wednesday.)
As the labor dispute continues, more regular-season games are in jeopardy. MLB had chosen its deadline because it believed a minimum of four weeks of spring training — two weeks shorter than usual — was needed to avoid a spike in injuries. The union, though, believes three weeks of spring training is feasible.
Q: How much is each game worth to players and owners?
A: Players’ salaries are public, but owners’ revenues are largely not. The Braves, however, offered a recent rare glimpse into the numbers of a successful team by way of their status as the only team that is controlled by a publicly traded company in the United States. The team reported a $104 million profit in 2021, and its revenue per home game was $6 million.
Outside of opening day, April isn’t a particularly good month for attendance, particularly for teams in colder and rainier climates. Schools are also still in session.
How much television revenue might be lost, though, is unclear because each club’s local deals are different. Some of those deals do not require the team to credit the network until roughly 20 games are missed. The big money in MLB’s national television deals come from the postseason. (The 14-team expanded postseason that club owners had been seeking was valued at $100 million annually. Players wanted a 12-team format.)
As for players: Based on base salaries, which totaled just over $3.8 billion last season, they would combine to lose $20.5 million for each day wiped off the 186-day regular season schedule, according to calculations by The Associated Press.
Q: How about tickets?
A: Teams have already begun announcing their ticket policies related to the cancellations. The Mets, for example, said tickets for the originally scheduled opening day would be honored for the first game of the season — whenever that happens.
Q: Will these games be made up?
A: That is a point of contention between MLB and the union. And given that the sides argued fiercely for months over the schedule and pay relating to the coronavirus pandemic-shortened 2020 season, this matter will likely continue to linger.
The union believes there is precedent to altering the regular-season schedule. In 1990, the 32-day lockout cut spring training in half, but the full schedule of regular-season games was played, beginning a week later than usual.
Asked to explain the league’s stance of canceling games rather than rescheduling them, Manfred cited the logistical difficulties of season-long interleague play. As for negotiating missed pay and service time for those games, he said, “Our position is that games that are not played players will not get paid.”
The union’s position is different. Bruce Meyer, the union’s lead negotiator, said that players will be asking for full pay and service time for those missed games, or for the missing games to be rescheduled. “If the league decided unilaterally to pull down games, then to get a deal, players should be compensated for those games,” he said.
Q: When will talks resume?
A: As of Wednesday, that is not known. The sides are legally obligated to bargain in good faith, so they will keep trying. Although both organizations are headquartered in New York, the recent face-to-face talks were held in Florida to accommodate players who were training.