The Pittsburgh Pirates and the rest of Major League Baseball looks like it will be heading for a work-stoppage, but the lockout could last much shorter than most think for a few important reasons.
With MLB and the MLBPA’s collective bargaining agreement coming to a close, a lockout will definitely ensue. This will lead to a work stoppage for the Pittsburgh Pirates and the rest of Major League Baseball.
There have been plenty of stories spreading about negotiations, and it seems that relations between the Players’ Association and the owners and commissioner are the most strained as they’ve been in quite a while. While a lockout is surely to follow now that the CBA has expired, could the lockout last shorter than many expect?
The last time Major League Baseball had a strike was from 1994 to 1995. The ‘94 season ended on August 11th and baseball wouldn’t return until April 27th, 1995. It was a long arduous process that saw only 114 games played in ‘94 and 144 games played in ‘95. However, MLB may be able to solve this issue sooner in the current year.
One major reason is revenue. Owners lot a whole lot of revenue in 2020. With just a 60-game season, or about 37% of a normal 162-game campaign, along with no fans in the stands during the regular season, there was a whole lot less revenue through normal sources. Overall viewership was down as well. The 2020 World Series was the least viewed World Series in MLB history.
Then to start this year, there were many restrictions related to COVID-19. Many parks had sections completely blocked off. If you went to a Pittsburgh Pirates game early into the campaign, you may have seen every other row of seats zip-tied shut for social distancing. Overall, while revenue wasn’t as low as it was in 2020, the overall revenue decreased. Owners likely don’t want to go through a third straight season of reduced revenue.
Owners not wanting a third straight season of decreased revenue may make owners more flexible in negotiations. It may also be in the players’ interest to get things started sooner rather than later. In 2020 when MLB and the Players’ Association were discussing how the season would play out after a long delay, one of the biggest obstacles was prorated salaries. This put things on hold even longer. If MLB can play a full 162 game season, worrying about prorated salaries in 2022 because the season starts in June won’t be a problem.
Baseball also can’t suffer another strike, at least not right now. Overall, the sport, in terms of popularity, is falling behind the NBA and NFL. It’s also falling behind in terms of age. MLB fans on average are 57-years-old. The only professional sport in the US with an older fanbase is Nascar at 58-years-old.
Now baseball has tried to get younger. They’re advertising their younger stars more and promoting the “Let The Kids Play” initiative, an initiative to show more emotion in the game. Aka, it’s okay to bat flip, and that it shouldn’t result with 95+ MPH to the backside. But right now, baseball can’t lose any ground they’ve made in becoming more popular, even if it’s a very small amount of ground made. Both players and owners know this. There could be a lot riding on the line for this lockout for this reason alone.
This also isn’t like the mid-90’s in the peak of the steroid era. Four years after the lockout, we had the Mark McGwire vs Sammy Sosa home run chase. Then in the early 2000s, Barry Bonds went on his ridiculous tear, posting a slugging percentage between 2001 and 2004 higher than 97 qualified players OPS in 2021, as well as breaking the single-season home run record. A lot more happened in the mid-’90s aside from these two events that helped baseball recuperate after the strike, but it doesn’t seem anything like peak-steroid era baseball is on the horizon for baseball today.
Many think that this lockout will last quite a while, and I can see why. Tensions are greater than ever and the relationship between players, owners, and the commissioner is very poor. It’s still absolutely possible that a strike lasts for months upon months. But in the end, owners aren’t going to want to ‘lose’ more money than they already have and both sides know the potential consequences of a long lockout to the long-term health of the sport.