MLB’s lockout hindering growth of America’s pastime
By Will Robinson
Jan. 28, 2022
Photo Credit: Associated Press
On Dec. 2, 2021, the Major League Baseball’s Players Association was locked out of operations by Major League Baseball’s owners. Since then, little progress has been made towards inking a new collective bargaining agreement. The two sides have met to negotiate just twice since the work stoppage and, according to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, the league has failed to address the players’ request for earlier access to arbitration and free agency.
The longer the lockout persists, the bleaker the outlook is for baseball. For a game that hasn’t seen much growth until recent years, a lockout should not be embraced with open arms.
It is no secret that baseball’s popularity and viewership had been trending downward over the past decade. Since 2015, in-game attendance dropped consistently. But, with the help of exciting young stars in conjunction with a hunger for sports post-COVID lockdown, Major League Baseball and the sport itself had great momentum built up at the conclusion of the 2021 season.
On TBS, viewership was up 95 percent while MLB.TV reached 10 billion minutes viewed for the first time ever. Opening Day 2021 was MLB.TV’s most viewed day ever. Baseball, for the first time in many years, had a positive outlook on the growth of the game.
The lockout has brought this momentum to a screeching halt, though. Now, headshots and news on current players have been removed from all MLB platforms. MLB’s social media accounts have not posted a single reference to any current player since the work stoppage. If a young fan wants to see Shohei Ohtani’s player page on MLB.com, he sees nothing but a blacked outline of a figure and ballpark lights. For a league that, historically, has trouble attracting a younger audience, the complete disappearance of the game’s faces across the internet do nothing but salt the sweet taste the 2021 season gave.
2020's COVID induced CBA negotiations were somewhat difficult to dissect because of restrictions such as limited/no fans, a shortened schedule, and repeated matchups. Nonetheless, it was estimated that Major League Baseball and its clubs lost more than $5 billion in gateway revenue in 2020.
But now that ballparks (for the most part) are at or near full capacity and there is money to be made from broadcasts, MLB owners have incentives to play a full schedule once again. Not doing so would lead to MLB losing out on its two major revenue sources. The owners, therefore, have little to gain from a work-stoppage and should be driven to reach an agreement.
Of course there’s more to the puzzle: draft seeding, arbitration rules, revenue sharing, and free agency all head the bill in negotiations. But, for the good of the sport, there should first and foremost be an urgency to strike a deal. In a world that seemingly only discusses its death, baseball found its light in 2021.
Now in lockout-land, it seems the longer a deal fails to be reached, the darker the future of America’s Pastime looks.