Major League Baseball Players Association Executive Director Tony Clark on February 19, 2020 at Clover Park in Port St. Lucie, Florida.
Alejandra Villa Loarca | Newsday RM via Getty Images
Major League Baseball has a future.
There are visions of maintaining doubleheaders made up of fewer innings, a runner on the base to start games that go beyond nine innings, and adding more teams to the postseason.
Commissioner Rob Manfred had campaigned to keep 16 clubs in the playoffs and a best-of-three round in the first round. This would help its media partners like AT & T's Turner Sports, which renewed its contract with the league for over $ 3 billion in June.
To accomplish all of this, Manfred and its owners need approval from their longtime adversary – the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA). And hitting another deal promises to be difficult, given where the two sides could likely end up – yet another money dispute.
In an interview with CNBC, Tony Clark, Executive Director of MLBPA, said he was "cautiously optimistic" that both sides can close a deal during a 2021 MLB season.
Clark said the players "await" the arrival of spring practice to prepare for the season. After completing the league's Covid-19 year, they are planning a full 162 games and most importantly a return to full salaries.
Clark added that the union wants a "high level of transparency in information and in our talks" with the MLB in the hope that once real talks begin, both sides will negotiate privately "with no ticker in the Television that highlights each of them ".
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred
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What are the problems?
The MLB ended its 60-game season last month, crowning the Los Angeles Dodgers in their first World Series title since 1988. The league took advantage of a bubble environment in Texas that had limited fans due to the pandemic.
In his media rounds at the World Series, the teams predicted by Manfred suffered a total of $ 3 billion in operating losses due to Covid-19 as the teams generated little income without spectators.
Last month, Stan Kasten, CEO of Dodgers, told CNBC that the club alone had lost over $ 100 million. "It is extraordinary," he said on October 27 of the lost revenue. "It is certainly not something anyone can plan. It will take years to catch up."
MLB clubs have suffered massive layoffs due to lack of revenue, which Tom Ricketts, chairman and co-owner of the Chicago Cubs, forecast to see sales of $ 4 billion for MLB sales of around $ 10 billion. And the owners could reach out to the players for another wage cut to make up for losses.
This is where the MLB could have a problem.
The players agreed to an upfront payment of approximately $ 170 million as part of a prorated compensation system for salaries for 2020. The concern is that MLB owners could apply for another prorated system for 2021 and again threaten to hold another season around the language of the collective agreement.
Under the Government Ordinance – National Emergency section of his CBA, Manfred has the authority to "suspend the operation of this contract during a national emergency that does not include major league baseball."
That means owners are once again using the pandemic as a national emergency, threatening to cancel games and tear the deal apart if players fail to agree to terms for a 2021 season, including possible wage cuts.
If so, expect another fight similar to the one back in the spring where media thrusts were exchanged and which resulted in a personal fight by Manfred-Clark to save the season.
MLB would also risk these rule changes if they embark on another financial battle.
Clark said the MLBPA had an "informal dialogue" with the MLB but declined to go into details of the conversation about the supplements, saying that further discussion was needed.
Behind the scenes, however, players seem to prefer the seven innings for doubleheaders and start additional innings with a man on the second base. The feeling is that rule changes result in better health and recovery to tackle an already long baseball year. Throwers also like to keep the universal hitter rule.
However, the extension of the postseason will be convincing. Baseball experts have already criticized the idea for watering down the cherished pennant races.
When asked if MLBPA will endorse the rule changes when it holds its board of directors in December, Clark replied, "There is an opportunity to have an open discussion and to find common ground on most, if not all, issues."
In a statement, MLB Deputy Commissioner Dan Halem told CNBC, "Like all companies that rely on public gatherings, the pandemic has changed our normal economy and everyone who has baseball is sadly feeling the impact from that.
"We see the players as partners in our business and this season was only possible because of the productive collaboration between teams and players. We look forward to a positive dialogue with the players about how we can take the field again together in 2021." a path that prioritizes health and safety and puts the industry in the best possible financial position for the future. "
Los Angeles Dodgers Mookie Betts # 50 safely slips past Tampa Bay Rays Mike Zunino # 10 and scores a run on a series outfield struck by Corey Seager (not pictured) at Globe Life Field in the sixth inning of the sixth game of MLB World 2020 on October 27, 2020 in Arlington, Texas.
Ronald Martinez | Getty Images
Prediction: 120-game season in 2021
Marty Conway, a former MLB manager, does not predict an immediate resolution to MLB-MLBPA problems. Conway, a professor of sports management at Georgetown University, said both sides would have to compromise to make up for losses.
"I don't think it's practical for anyone to believe that there were no losses last year," said Conway, who served as special assistant under former MLB commissioner Peter Ueberroth.
"But, as always, one of the questions between owners and players was:" Is that really a loss of money or a loss of paper? Isn't this income being offset elsewhere? "
Despite news of a possible vaccine, pandemic conditions are likely to continue. Because of this, Conway predicts that spring training will be delayed and a season of 120 games will follow.
The decrease in the number of games would enable make-up days should Covid-19 lead to blocked games again. Games, in turn, might have limited viewers, so Conway said players might have to agree to a different pro-rated system and additional funds would be placed in an escrow account.
"They had a small model this year, and I think they would look at how far they can extend that model into a full season next year," Conway said of MLB's 2020 Covid-19 deal, which expires at the end of the year.
Manfred will shortly present a plan for 2021 through his club owners. The rule changes are likely to create revenue opportunities and a more engaging game. It's clear that Clark has his version too, and it doesn't start with any further pay cuts.
"We have a lot to do," said Clark.