Talk about a bitter irony. During an ESPN program entitled "the Return of Sports", MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred announced on Monday evening that the league is on the verge of scrapping the 2020 MLB season, a 180-degree reversal from his promise made last Wednesday that a season would "100%" happen, even if players had to perform in empty stadiums to TV-only audiences.
WSJ explains that an increasingly fraught labor dispute between the league, the owners and the player's union has jeopardized an abbreviated 50-game season that had been set to start as soon as July 4th Weekend, getting a jump on other American sports. That jump could have maybe helped baseball recapture the interest of fans who have started to abandon the sport. Instead, the problem of how owners can profitably run a business without a critical pillar of revenue - ie ticket sales and sales of food, beverages and merchandise from live game attendfance - has reared its ugly head.
“The owners are 100% committed to getting baseball back on the field,” Manfred said. “Unfortunately, I can’t tell you that I’m 100% certain that’s going to happen.”
Restaurant owners across the US are shutting their doors en masse as millions find that the "COVID-19-friendly" arrangement of dining rooms at 50% capacity simply isn't workable for most restaurants, though some have made it work by expanding their dining rooms to the surrounding street and parking lots.
The problem with the MLB is that owners have been demanding more wage concessions from players. The players union has insisted that players won't accept pay reductions that amount to more than 100% of the per-game pro-rated figure (ie a share of their salary that directly corresponds to the number of games played in 2020 vs. a normal season).
But owners insist that they can't profitably run the business and meet player's salary demands, which the owners have characterized as unreasonable. In recent days, the player's union has asked to see proof that the owners truly are facing economic hardship. Before asking for further pay reductions from the players, owners had settled on the 50-game figure, the shortest of several proposed scenarios, to try and maximize the more lucrative post-season and minimize losses from what will likely be a loss-leader of a regular season. The player's union cut off talks after rejecting the league's third payroll reduction offer. Now, Manfred is accusing the players of negotiating in bad faith.
Then the players union accused the league of negotiating in bad faith "since the beginning". The resulting acrimonious stalemate is threatening to cause ructions that could resonate beyond the 2020 season. The WSJ says both sides are now gearing up for a "prolonged labor battle" that could take years to resolve.
And the two sides haven't even started serious talks in safety protocols.