While players’ thoughts on the health-and-safety measures Major League Baseball proposed for a 2020 season over the weekend would seem to be more important, money issues could provide the biggest hurdle to the return of baseball this year.
The league and the players’ union continue to discuss the proposals for getting a shortened 2020 season off the ground. But the two sides remain at odds on how players will be compensated, and it’s that bubbling labor battle that has the ability to derail a season before it gets started — no matter how much either side wants to get back on the field.
MLB has reportedly not yet made an official economic proposal to the union. But MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reported Tuesday that the league has outlined a choice between two options:
MLB in recent talks gave the union 2 options: 1) negotiate a new financial arrangement (sonething other than prorated pay for players playing games with no fans in attendance) or 2) wait until the Coronavirus yo clear to the point where fans can attend games.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) May 19, 2020
The league’s stance is that games without fans — and the steep decline in revenue because of it — and paying players their prorated salaries are mutually exclusive, that they will not bring in enough money to pay the players what they’re owed. The owners also believe the language in the March agreement between the two sides means they already agreed to negotiate further on player compensation if they ended up not being able to have paying customers in the stands.
The players, in turn, believe the issue of compensation was settled in March, when they agreed to prorated salaries based on the number of games that ended up being played in a 2020 season. With the league proposing an 82-game slate, players are prepared to receive roughly half their original salaries under such a scenario, a seemingly hefty 50-percent pay cut.
The players say that if Major League Baseball seriously believes it’s not economically feasible to stage a season in which the players receive even prorated salaries, then the league should share their financial records with the players to prove it. And that doesn’t seem like a ridiculous thing to ask, especially when the owners are proposing — though they haven’t done so officially yet — revenue sharing as the solution to this problem.
Under a revenue-sharing plan, player compensation would come from half the revenue the league brings in in 2020, which remember is expected to be drastically reduced this year. The players fear it would put baseball on a path to revenue sharing and a salary cap past the unique circumstances of the 2020 season. The NFL and NBA have revenue sharing between owners and players. They also have salary caps, which baseball does not, and the players are vehemently against the institution of a salary cap, as it would obviously restrict how much they can make.
The owners’ response in negotiations, which are seemingly happening in public through these various reports, is that players can either negotiate a new compensation system for the 2020 season or wait until paying fans are allowed to fill stadiums again after the coronavirus pandemic ends. Of course, no one knows when that will be.
As states across the country continue to open after months of lockdown, there’s more optimism that baseball will happen in 2020. California and New York, two states that have taken precautionary measures quite seriously, indicated Monday that they would welcome the return of pro sports, without fans, next month.
Baseball’s proposal to start a shortened season includes a second round of spring training beginning in the middle of June, either at teams’ home ballparks or at their spring training facilities in Arizona or Florida, and an Opening Day set for the first few days of July.
That doesn’t give the league and the union long to figure out these financial issues.
But while the public-health situation might not make staging a season wise, an opportunity does exist for baseball to capitalize on being the only sport in action as sports-hungry fans remain at home craving competition to watch on TV. And that provides an incentive for both sides to make a deal.