Trine profs: MLB cancellations ‘disappointing, not surprising’

March 03, 2022

Faculty in Trine University’s Center for Sports Studies say they are disappointed, but not surprised at Major League Baseball’s decision to begin canceling games as a result of the sport’s ongoing lockout.

“The lion’s share of these negotiations could have taken place long before the end of February. It feels like this is a strategic move by the owners,” said Brandon Podgorski, associate professor of sport management and director of the Center for Sports Studies. “Although they miss out on gate revenues, attendance in April games isn’t robust, and they may be able to miss the first few weeks of the season without having to pay back any TV money, so this isn’t the worst thing in the world for the owners. With that being said, if they can keep a united front, I actually believe that the players start to gain some leverage, the more games that are missed.”

“With the issues facing the sport, it seemed likely that this would take some time,” said Andy Brown, assistant professor of communication. “The interesting component here is that baseball does not plan to pay players for the canceled games. This adds a new pressure to the situation, as real money is starting to be lost. I’m sure the owners are hoping that this will motivate the players to reach a deal sooner, but it also runs the risk of further separating the two sides — which were not on good terms to begin with.”

Podgorski said canceling games is both a negotiating and a business strategy for owners, but one that could backfire.

“The owners are counting on the players’ union to finally cave once players begin missing checks, and they get to avoid April games that are not as profitable as games later in the season,” he said. “In my opinion though, they are cutting off their nose to spite their face. After two years of interrupted MLB seasons, this year’s shortened season is an unforced error and I think baseball will pay a short-term price. It took about a decade for attendance to come back to pre-strike levels after the 1994-1995 strike, and while I don’t think this lockout will be as impactful, I do think some fans will stay at home this year. At least, early in the season.”

Brown agreed that the tactic puts pressure on the clubs as well as the players.

“Remember, this is a lockout, not a strike,” he said. “The owners are the ones doing the canceling here, as much as they might try to control the narrative. As business partners, cities and workers begin to feel the effects of having no baseball, the stakes are raised for everyone involved.”

However, Brown added that players will feel the financial hit sooner.

“A majority of major league baseball players make less than a million dollars a year,” he said. “Younger players especially will feel the pinch of missed game checks.  While the players union does have a war chest and will pay money out to the players to keep them going, it’s hard to believe they can hold out as long a billionaire owner. As far as the revenue coming into the sport, as long as the playoffs are protected, the impact will be serious but manageable. The closer we get to the playoffs, the more the pressure starts to shift to the owners who will certainly feel the pain of lost revenue then.”

Podgorski added that the impact on owners depends on how soon they have to begin discounting or paying back money to TV partners.

“Some estimates I have seen are in the 15-to-25-game range,” he said.

Both agreed baseball can’t afford a repeat of the 1994-95 strike, which wiped out the 1994 postseason and World Series.

“The first month of the season won’t hurt the game in the long term, but missing the entire season would be catastrophic for years to come,” Podgorski said. “Unlike the NFL, the bulk of MLB’s revenue comes from ticket sales, not TV revenue. It is estimated that professional sports lost approximately $11 billion in revenue due to COVID-19 and, although being an MLB owner is profitable, I don’t see how they can absorb the loss of an entire season. I think you’d see another exodus of fans from the game, similar to what happened after the 1994-95 strike.”

“A public contract dispute is never good for any business,” said Brown. “Baseball has worked hard through the years to become the sport synonymous with American values — it’s known as the American pastime, after all.  Every time the sport has a moment like this, where the focus is on a financial dispute, or on a cheating scandal or some other controversy, the mythology of baseball’s purity chips away.  Baseball continued on after 1994 when the majority of the season as well as the World Series was canceled, but the scars from that year remain. Players and owners alike are playing a dangerous game to even hint that something like 1994 could happen again. With ratings down and diminishing enthusiasm for the sport among young people, another extended work stoppage could be an existential threat to the game.”

The Trine Center for Sports Studies is a multidisciplinary teaching and experiential learning collaborative at Trine University focusing on the study of sports and the international sports industry. The Center draws from well-respected Trine University programs and courses in business, health sciences and communication to provide the broadest range of sports-related academic major, minors and internships to prepare Trine students for this fast-growing, dynamic international marketplace.

Last Updated: 03/03/2022

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