Major League Baseball's owners have given up on the sport
It's clear that the majority of the few folks who own Major League Baseball's 30 teams don't care much about the sport of baseball.
We should have presumed that when they installed a labor lawyer, Rob Manfred, as the “Commissioner of Baseball”. We should have taken the hint when the owners kept delaying a return to the field during the pandemic summer of 2020. As other leagues built bubbles, baseball — a sport almost exclusively played outdoors and, that season, in front of empty stands — did nothing.
But fans of the sport are left with no other opinion of Major League Baseball's owners as the league continued its lockout of the players on March 1, canceling Opening Day and the first two series of the season in the process.
There's no sugarcoating it: This is bad.
But what's even worse than that is that the owners don't seem to believe in the future of the sport of baseball.
And that is far more unconscionable than the 2022 season starting late.
Baseball is a sport that has become stagnant on the diamond. It's hard to say who's to blame for this development — and this isn't false nostalgia — but the sport isn't all that fun anymore. No, this game needs an injection of dynamism and speed. It needs some new rules and new attitudes.
But the conversations over the last few days in Jupiter, Fla. have not focused on figuring out how to best position the game to compete for upfor-grabs, post-pandemic entertainment dollars in the '20s were not the conversations that have been happening over the last few days in Jupiter, Florida.
No, instead, the owners and the players were fighting over the proverbial slices of pie — baseball's revenue for their onfield product.
It's a nasty fight. One that could continue for weeks, perhaps months.
And the owners have made it clear in those negotiations that they don't expect the pie to grow in the years to come.
There are countless financial sticking points between the league and players, but none is stickier than the luxury tax threshold — effectively baseball's salary cap (though it operates in a different way than true revenue-sharing leagues like the NBA and NFL).
In other sports, the salary cap goes up as the sport's collective revenues grow. We'll see a spike in the NFL salary cap in 2023. The NBA had a 32% bump in one offseason that allowed the Warriors to sign Kevin Durant.
Understanding that it's not exactly apples-to-apples, I still have to ask: What does it say when baseball's owners are
steadfast on keeping the CBT threshold at $220 million over the next three years and only growing it to $224 million and $230 million four and five years from now?
That they're greedy? Of course they are. That's a lazy answer. An empty catch-all.
No, I think there's something bigger in play than the desires of rich guys to stay filthy rich.
These owners are supposed to be the custodians of the sport's highest level and here they are, saying that the sport is done growing, that it's tapped out its on-field revenue potential.
Now, these owners will not be selling their teams. No, there's so much more money to make in this sport, just found on the periphery of the diamond — literally.
Major League Baseball and its 30 member teams are being run like a vulture hedge fund. Cut labor costs across the board, do nothing to improve the product in the marketplace, and leverage or sell everything and anything around the team for even the smallest profit (keep all that money to yourself).
Other sports leagues operate this way, too, but baseball has really taken it to heart.
Regular season games? They're unnecessary. You have to pay a lot of people to put them on and local TV revenue — ever dwindling in this age of cord-cutting — isn't going to cover all those costs.
No, owners would love to simply skip to the playoffs, where players are only paid paltry bonus money and real TV bucks — the national deals — come into play.
It almost seems as if the actual baseball part is a necessary evil for the real goal: using the civic value of teams to procure sweetheart real estate deals.
Ballplayers come and go, but they're not making any more land.
Look at all the construction around Oracle Park these days. Payroll has been going down year after year for the Giants inside the fences, but outside of them, hotels and condos are going up. Where do you think the organization's priorities lie?
John Fisher — the owner of the A's — has made it abundantly clear where his priorities lie. The A's, legitimately, need a new ballpark. They want it to be in Oakland. Fisher is willing to spend $1 billion on building a lovely new stadium at Howard Terminal and the city and county are down to give him the deal of a lifetime on the space.
All of this is just fine — justifiable in every way.
But does Fisher want that waterfront land in Oakland to build that ballpark or the condos and hotels that will go around it?
Seeing as Fisher wants to spend $12 billion on the Howard Terminal project, but only $1 billion will be going towards the ballpark, the answer has to be the latter.
We've seen this in Wrigleyville and suburban Atlanta, Arlington, Texas, and Washington, D.C. San Francisco and Oakland will hardly be the last places this playbook is used.
The best owners in sport are not in it for the money. They're fans of the team with the means to facilitate wins.
Baseball has clearly run out of such owners. Wins, losses? What's it matter? These guys are only in the game for the money.
Yes, baseball's owners believe that the game itself is a failed enterprise. What they don't seem to realize is that failure is a self-fulfilling prophecy.