The sport of baseball has been forced to a standstill as league executives and players have been forced into an ongoing lockout over a pending agreement on the league’s collective bargaining agreement. With neither side willing to budge, fans and players have voiced their complete displeasure with the lockout. However, while many would argue that the lockout is completely terrible for the sport, there’s also the question of whether the lockout may be good for the sport. Staff writers Evan Rodriguez and Sam Zelin attempt to argue that question in today’s edition of Point/Counterpoint.
Sam: On Dec. 14, 2016, Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association ratified a five-year collective bargaining agreement (CBA). This was the first CBA negotiated in the term of commissioner Rob Manfred, and now the league is embroiled in a fight over what his second agreement will entail. Judging from the fact that the league felt a need to enter a lockout, the relationship between the two negotiating organizations is clearly not a friendly one. What would make that relationship worse is an incomplete agreement, pieced together simply for the sake of starting the 2022 season on time; it would make more sense for both parties to take the time and care to hammer out all the issues before ratifying a new deal. According to Baseball Prospectus, MLB’s first collective bargaining agreement was signed on Feb. 28, 1968, and lasted only two years. Since then, the term length of each CBA has not varied much, with only the most recent three deals reaching the five-year mark. If the MLB and the MLB Players Association (MLBPA) goal is a league with more stability with a CBA that won’t have to be re-negotiated for a while, the focus should be on quality, not speedily getting back to baseball.
Evan: While I am certainly in agreement on quality over quantity, that simply doesn’t work when it starts taking away games. Owners care about one thing and that’s the dollar bill. When you start taking away games, fans won’t exactly be in love with that idea. They’ll start to side with the players who have earned their respect and attracted them to the game in the first place. The baseball world has already seen its 1994 strike tear the league apart, lower ratings and, most importantly, take away money from owners. In 2022, it’s a very big possibility unless players and league staff can come to an agreement. Essentially, everyone loses with a longer agreement. It took years before MLB was able to raise ratings back to normal with events like the Mcgwire-Sosa home run race captivating the sports world. With MLB’s viewership falling and an absolute need for higher viewership, there’s an even bigger need for a quick agreement – even if it means prolonging the MLB’s disagreements longer.
Sam: While it’s true that the 1994 strike did lasting damage to the league, there’s one major difference between then and now. In 1994, the strike took away the end of the season and the playoffs, resulting in that year not having a champion, meanwhile a delayed year in 2022 would take away the beginning of the season, with the possibility of a playoffs still intact. Just as there is evidence that the 1994 strike hurt baseball’s reputation and lowered its popularity, the reverse is the case for a delayed start. Just two years ago, the COVID-19-affected 2020 season was delayed by months, yet according to Sports Illustrated, ratings went up from the 2019 season, and continued to rise in 2021. Another factor to consider is that prematurely ending the lockout might just lead into a players’ strike. The lockout is league imposed, so they have the power to end it whenever they want, but the MLBPA has the power to institute a strike in the circumstance that it is not satisfied with MLB’s terms. In either scenario, games would not be played. Because of this, it simply makes sense to wait until a deal that satisfies both parties is reached before attempting to start the season.
Evan: While 2020 MLB ratings may have gone up and continued to rise in 2021, this was simply premature. According to Yahoo! Sports, game 1 of the 2021 World Series averaged just 10.8 million viewers – the lowest at a neutral site. The 2020 World Series also holds the record for the least watched World Series of all time, according to Forbes. While the 2021 World Series may have been an improvement, that doesn’t say much with increased cable-cutting amongst TV viewership. Even with the potential to still have an MLB Playoffs, the league had halted an exciting free agency as well, which included big names like Carlos Correa and Freddie Freeman. When you take even more games away, that just does more to take away fan support. With how reportedly far apart both sides are on a deal, the decision to wait on a deal may take months to truly make a decision on and appease both sides. It may take more than just the beginning of the season. Those lost baseball games may force people to pick up other sports to watch instead of baseball and take away money from both parties. A quick agreement to prolong current disagreements would certainly work to keep the current ratings of the sport and add even more fans to baseball.