MLB’s newest economic pitch again aims to make the players look bad

Since MLB’s revenue-sharing plan was shot down, the league has since countered with a brand-new proposal that would see the highest-paid players take massive pay cuts to compensate for the inevitable lost revenues of a shortened 2020 season without fans in stadiums.

To backtrack a little bit, back in mid-May, MLB put together a proposal for the Players’ Association that would have seen the owners and the players split the revenue from the season down the middle. The season would be 82 games, the playoffs would be expanded, teams would only play geographical rivals, and the designated hitter would be universal. None of those details matter very much. What’s important here, naturally, is money.

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It seems like years ago at this point, but, back in March when the season was originally delayed due to the outbreak of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the league and the players agreed to a labour plan that, among other things, would see players earn a pro-rated percentage of their salaries in the event of a shortened season. So, hypothetically, if the 2020 season was cut in half, a player would make half as much as they were supposed to. Simple enough.

Since that was agreed upon, though, the league has been trying to squeeze more money out of the players to offset the losses from not being able to have fans in the seats this season. The 50/50 revenue split, at a glance, seems fair for both sides because it ultimately has both sides sharing an equal share of the pie.

But, if you follow the economics of the NHL, you’ll know this isn’t actually the case. The NHL and the NHLPA have a deal in their Collective Bargaining Agreement that stipulates the league and the players will share an equal percentage of hockey-related revenues each season. The issue here, though, is what’s considered hockey-related revenue.

For example, back in 2017, the Vegas Golden Knights cut a cheque worth $500 million to become an NHL franchise. Despite the fact that chunk of cash was divided up among the 30 owners of the existing league franchises, it wasn’t considered hockey-related revenue. So, while it was revenue for the owners, it sorta kinda wasn’t, and the players didn’t see any of it.

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Now imagine Major League Baseball in the COVID-19 landscape. Plans are going to be put together on the fly in order to get a season finished and everything is going to be a mad, disorganized scramble. It would be very, very easy for MLB to generate revenue in different ways than usual in 2020 and claim certain earnings as something else other than revenue that the players and owners agreed to split 50/50.

The function of the 50/50 split plan was to help the owners pay the players less than what they originally agreed to, which is a prorated version of the already agreed upon salaries. Furthermore, this was also a pretty obvious PR tactic in which the players would look bad because they’re spitting at the idea of sharing the revenue. Ultimately, the billionaire owners have the cash to pay their millionaire employees, but the former is making the latter out to be the reason baseball isn’t going to be played.

If you’re still thinking well, they’re splitting the revenue, what’s unfair about that? remember that this 50/50 split is only something that’ll temporarily exist to protect owners in a worst-case-scenario situation. Players can earn less on their contracts if less money is made to protect the owners from losses. Meanwhile, the players would never earn more money on their deals if the league brings in more revenue than expected. Switching to a one-time, 50/50 split only benefits one party.

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Next up, we have MLB’s newest plan, which serves the same function of trying to make the players out to be the bad guys while also dividing the Players’ Union. The newest plan would see the highest-paid players take a larger pay cut while the lower- and middle-class players weren’t affected as much.

This is a simple divide-and-conquer strategy. Baseball’s one percent will obviously be against this because it would see a guy set to earn $35 million instead earn as little as $8 million. In the original agreement, a player making $35 million would instead make a prorated $17.5 million if only half of a season was played.

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While guys like Gerrit Cole who make over $30 million annually will hate this deal, they’ll be going up against members of their own union, like Pete Alonso, who made $555,000 to lead the National League in home runs last season and are chomping at the bit to come back and play. Now, the players like Cole look like the bad guy not only to the public because they’re the greedy millionaires who won’t play baseball for us, but they’re also the bad guy to their fellow players who don’t have millions in their savings account to fall back on.

MLB and the PA have about a week to reach a deal in order to get things on track for a return to play in July. If they can’t, there probably isn’t going to be a 2020 season. Ultimately, the owners should be honouring their deal originally made with the players, which is to pay them their prorated salaries. But, if you know anything about Major League Baseball, it’s that everything is about money. The owners will try to squeeze the players out of as much cash as possible.