May 12, 2020


The salvage show that is the 2020 baseball non-season continues to get strange.

MLB owners had been steadfast against revenue sharing (frequent in other sports). But since the 2020 season now seems to be getting shorter and shorter (if at all), owners have gone back to the union with another re-start proposal.

Prior to his proposal, the union had agreed to a $170 million player fund if the season was canceled. It was a way to settle any litigation over payment of guaranteed contracts, etc. In addition, the plan was to prorate existing player contracts over the number of games actually played in 2020.

But the roadblock to even this negotiated solution is the crippling effect of the shutdown. Individual states have different stay-at-home orders. Science cannot keep up with virus explanations or mathematical models of the contagion. Baseball has no revenue. The golden goose, broadcast TV, has gone sterile as advertising has dried up with most businesses closed or doing poorly.

The owners now want to change the plan to share 48 percent of the "revenue" with the players once the season starts. It is a significant change to the existing baseball payroll structure; a nullification of existing 2020 contract obligations. There is always been multiple account ledgers in baseball. Most teams now consider baseball "revenue" as only what the team pulls in from local TV rights, ticket sales (approx. 30 percent) and concessions. Owners believed that national TV rights, and the development of alternative venue sources outside the ball park do not count.

Even if both sides could agree on what counts as "revenue," the owners must have determined that it will be exceptionally low. If you have no revenue, you share zero. If you receive only a fraction of the past revenue, then the players would only get a fraction of a fraction.

National broadcasters have had cable subscriber losses and huge ad revenue declines. There is no time frame for advertisers to return to baseball. Networks will demand concessions due to revenue losses. Owners have had their accountants flip their calculators around to find that prorated 2020 contracts with no significant revenue means massive losses to the owners. It would be better not to open the season.

We know that there are several clubs that were in a financial mess before the virus crisis. The Mets have been a mess for a long time. It is so bad that a vanity couple, A-Rod and J-Lo and their investors, quickly passed at buying the Mets because the financials were so bad. Playing a season could tip one or more clubs into bankruptcy, something that MLB fears the most since it would lose control over who would join their elite ownership club.

The union had stated that it already has a revised 2020 agreement in place with the owners. The union does not have to change its position. It is the owners who are scrambling to find a way to make a profit (and lessen operating expenses - - - salaries, travel costs, etc.).

The Illinois governor has hinted that the "peak" of infections may last through June 15. That means Illinois will remain in lock-down for another month. That would push the Cubs and White Sox back to a late July season start, if at all.An 80 game schedule turns into 65 games.  The longer the wait, the closer it is to a point of no return.

It is assumed that there a pent up demand from fans for baseball's return. But I am not so sure. People have been living without "live" sports for two months. They have found other things to occupy their time, including parents who are working from home AND trying to teach their children homework lessons since virtual classrooms are nearly non-existent in elementary schools. Steaming services have been doing well, but there has been a reported peak in new subscribers and a slow down in viewers. Cabin fever has turned into media burnout.

Even if baseball returns, there is no guarantee that fans will jump on board. There is no guarantee that fans will come back to the ball parks. There is no guarantee that TV ratings will be anything close to respectable numbers. The great unknown is harsh. The epidemic is going to gut the middle class; mom and pop businesses that have been closed may never re-open. People want to go back to work, but cannot. People are confused, angry and in choking debt. A surge a bankruptcies will happen. People will not have the disposable income (the shock of the value of their retirement account balances).

It is still a 50-50 chance that this year there will be any professional baseball.