Say the words Major League Baseball today and it incites a reaction from fans, those that support the sport through memorabilia, television watching, and ticket sales. The problem is the reaction today is in the negative and baseball cannot afford any more of the negative. A sport that has barely recovered from the steroid era and the very recent Houston Astros cheating scandal is already less popular than the NBA and NFL. Even the NHL is starting to gain traction in popularity with fans.
We already know that soccer is the world’s most popular sport, but we are going to keep that great sport out of this equation for now. All of these major sports are trying to come back from COVID-19 and re-establish some sort of normalcy. However, it seems that Major League Baseball cannot find a solution on how to do that and keeps getting in its own way. The players blame ownership. The owners blame the players. The league works for the owners, even though it tries to say it is on the side of the players.
This is all being played out publicly through statements and across social media.
And what does it all come down to?
You guessed it – money.
Strike one, baseball.
With what is happening in the world today, it comes down to money on how baseball will get back on the diamond. In just the U.S. alone, more than 40 million people are out of work and looking for jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They do not have money. They are struggling to pay the rent and buy food. According to Census Bureau data from 2018 (the latest data points available), the average U.S. household income was $63,179. According to 2019 data, the average salary for an MLB player was $4.36 million. $63,000 versus $4.36 million.
Baseball should not wonder why fan support is decreasing when fans hear about money issues in the economy we are in today. The greed that is being shown by both ownership and the players is shocking, but maybe even more shocking is the league’s messaging. Major League Baseball announced back on March 12 that due to COVID-19, the league was going to delay the 2020 opening day “by at least two weeks.”
We are going to give baseball a full pass on that statement. We know now that as a nation and as a planet, we did not have a full grasp of what COVID-19 was all about.
But let us fast forward.
This column is being written in mid-June and the league does not know what it is doing yet.
Let me re-type that. Three months later the league does not know what it is doing yet. Three months. This is one of the many reasons that baseball is getting in its own way.
Strike two, baseball.
Take just the last week.
June 11: MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred states while being interviewed on MLB Network “We’re going to play baseball in 2020, 100 percent.”
June 13: The MLB Players Association states in part “Players agreed to billions in monetary concessions as a means to that end, and in the face of repeated media leaks and misdirection we made additional proposals to inject new revenues into the industry – proposals that would benefit the owners, players, broadcast partners, and fans alike. It’s now become apparent that these efforts have fallen upon deaf ears.”
June 15: MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred tells ESPN he is “not confident” that there will be a 2020 baseball season.
June 17: MLB states in part “…At my request, Tony Clark and I met for several hours yesterday in Phoenix. We left that meeting with a jointly developed framework that we agreed could form the basis of an agreement and subject to conversations with our respective constituents.”
If your head is spinning not only from the confusing messaging but from shaking it in disappointment, join the club.
Strike three, baseball. You’re out.
And there might not be another chance at-bat.
By Charles Zinkowski (firstname.lastname@example.org; @thisischarlesz)