As has been widely expected, Major League Baseball is now in a lockout. The current collective bargaining agreement between the players association and the league expired at midnight ET with no deal reached for a new agreement. It’s the first labor stoppage for the MLB since the players strike of 1994, which ended up canceling that year’s World Series.
During a lockout, all league activity is effectively halted and teams are barred from having contact with players, including free agents, until a new deal is reached. The two sides have been reportedly far apart in talks and a new deal is not expected to be reached for some time, as has been the case with other leagues like the NFL, NHL and NBA, each of which have experienced lengthy lockouts of their own over the past decade-plus.
The 2022 MLB season is scheduled to begin on March 31, 2022 and spring training is supposed to start in mid-February. Both of those dates are extremely tentative at the moment. For the TV networks like Fox, TBS and ESPN, as well as the many regional sports networks that badly need those live games, they won’t start sweating too much until those dates come and go with no agreement.
Baseball commissioner Robert D. Manfred explained the league’s position on the labor dispute in a letter posted just after 9:00 p.m.
“We are taking this step now because it accelerates the urgency for an agreement with as much runway as possible to avoid doing damage to the 2022 season,” Manfred wrote. “Delaying this process further would only put Spring Training, Opening Day, and the rest of the season further at risk – and we cannot allow an expired agreement to again cause an in-season strike and a missed World Series, like we experienced in 1994. We all owe you, our fans, better than that.”
The MLB players association sharply contested that, saying a statement that the shutdown wasn’t “required by law or for any other reason. It was the owners’ choice, plain and simple, specifically calculated to pressure players into relinquishing rights and benefits.”
Lockouts in other leagues, particularly the NBA and NHL, have led to cancelation of games (the NHL lost an entire season in 2005 to a lockout). Even the NFL saw its preseason schedule disrupted following its lockout in 2011.
Each of the MLB’s national TV partners have recently renewed their deals and those new contracts kick in next year. For Fox and Turner, that comes with a hefty price increase — Fox will pay more than $700 million a year, while Turner will shell out $470 million each season — as well as additional game inventory. ESPN is actually paying less, $550 million (down from $700 million) because it is getting fewer games.
There’s been growing unrest from the players side over the past two years, who have complained that salaries have decreased overall as many owners prefer to eschew more accomplished veterans for younger, much cheaper, options (though some big money deals for free agent stars like Max Scherzer, Corey Seager and Kevin Gausman were agreed to just before the lockout began).
There has also been a push from the Commissioner Rob Manfred’s office to speed up the pace of play and add other tweaks, such as a universal DH, that many observers argue are badly needed to help make the game more attractive to younger audiences.
ESPN’s Jeff Passan helpfully breaks down what each side is after (you can read the full story here): “The players want bigger paydays earlier in their careers, more competitive integrity, no service-time manipulation and fewer artificial restraints on players via the competitive-balance tax (CBT) and draft-pick compensation. Among the league’s objectives: a static amount of spending on players, expanded playoffs, an international draft and on-field changes.”
Whatever the eventual outcome, baseball is likely in for a long, cold winter.