While the MLB owners and MLBPA actually talked to each other yesterday, and even plan on talking to each other today with spring training coming over the horizon, the news out of yesterday’s meeting was that MLB owners expressed to the players that they basically had no problem canceling regular-season games to get what they want. Which in a system pretty much like this one, has allowed most owners to print money without really having to do anything.
Why this is such a shock, if it is, is a mystery. MLB owners have been treating regular-season games, and really baseball as a whole, as a nuisance or worse for years.
Considering the structures of TV deals, both national and local, the revenue-sharing structure, and streaming rights, the convention centers/business districts/shopping malls they’ve created around their parks that they didn’t pay for in the first place, and also the sale of BamTech back in the day, we’ve already seen multiple owners make it clear they don’t really care if their team has to play games at all. They certainly don’t care if they win any. Do the owners of the Pirates, or Marlins, or Reds, or Cubs give the slightest inkling that they care if anyone comes? If so, why would they fear having to lose games?
With their hard-on for expanded playoffs and the TV deals they’ve chased to broadcast them, they’ve made it clear what games they really care about. And a lot of teams don’t have to care if they’re actually in the playoffs, because those national TV deals go to everyone. The owners haven’t shown any interest in improving the actual product in a dog’s age, and whenever they make noise about it it’s only to make players look bad — foreign substances on baseballs, PEDs, cheating scandals — basically to only claw back something else they can make money off of. The product has been bad thanks to too many teams not trying at all to put out a winning team, or the way the game has evolved to rob itself of most of the action, and yet nothing gets done about it. The owners would be happy to just rake in the cash from all the other outlets that don’t have anything to do with attendance without the bother of putting on games. If they could play the whole regular season on a soundstage, they absolutely would. As long as that soundstage had a hotel outside of it.
MLB owners stopped caring about all the things that make the MLB season special long ago, and they’ll kill it off completely with their 14-team-playoff system and their effort to build 80-win teams, if they can even be bothered to do that. It’s been in front of everyone for a while.
However, with these latest talks you can kind of see the MLBPA’s strategy of driving a wedge between owners. One, there are some teams that would want to hold on to all the home games they can. Your Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, etc. They rake in far too much per home game to just let them fritter into the sky without so much as a wince. And those would also just happen to be the same teams that probably wouldn’t mind reducing their revenue sharing burden as well. None of them are happy to keep funding other teams to simply sit on their asses all the time.
Which is what it seems the union is going to attack by relinquishing their desire to lower the time to get to free agency, which they did yesterday. What they haven’t done is take a step back on revenue sharing or arbitration. The latter will be a tough negotiation, but the former might speak to some group of owners.
It will depend on Commissioner Rob Manfred being able to keep the owners together. Given his leadership abilities, one wonders. While the risk is that too many fans would turn away and never come back, does that ever really happen? Only takes time. The players have more to lose obviously and the theory has always been they can’t hold out as long, or keep together as those lower on the food chain can’t miss that many checks.
But the same might be true for some owners, no matter how much money they have. Once you start gobbling up every dollar you can find, they’re never sated. Cause the Yankees or Red Sox to miss on some home gates, and lessening revenue sharing they have to kick to the Reds or Rockies might be something they’re willing to give up, too. It’s one of the few paths to anything looking like victory for the players.
A glide in the right direction
While it’s been a dark weekend for hockey, we should also mention when there is a step in the right direction. The Vancouver Canucks hired Émilie Castonguay as their new assistant GM. While she’s not the first female assistant GM in league history, the last one was 20 years ago so she might as well be.
It’s pretty savage from Castonguay who was an agent, she was the agent who robbed the Canucks blind by getting them to pay mouthy tomato can Antoine Roussel a $12 million contract to bark a lot and not much else. Certainly in any interview, if she could point out all the ways she could keep the team from doing that sort of lunacy again in the future, she would have many points in her corner.
Castonguay continues a trend of former agents moving into front offices, and while that causes some old heads to spit up their Molson, hockey needs outside-of-the-box thinking more than any other sport. Agents certainly have their own player evaluation systems and scouting, so it’s hardly in from the desert in regards to hockey thought.
This comes after the team hired Rachel Doerrie into the front office as well. There still aren’t nearly enough women working with hockey teams, but have to start somewhere.