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(Before I begin, a quick note that while this column will not cover the protests surrounding the killing of George Floyd, we do have a lot of coverage on the topic at FTW which you can read here. Thanks all and stay safe.)
As pro sports slowly re-open around the world in the midst of a global coronavirus pandemic, two American leagues are noticeably lagging behind in negotiations to return: MLB and MLS.
You’d think that the thing holding pro sports up would be concerns about coronavirus, and how to safely get players back on the field. If not that, then dealing with the logistics of isolating players away from families for extended periods of time.
That’s not the hold up right now, at least when it comes to MLS and MLB. The hold up is money.
In MLB, players agreed back in March that they would take pay cuts and only be paid for games in which they played, basically a prorated salary system that would take the ease off owners, who would be let off the hook to pay players their full salaries for the year. Put simply: The players would only take money for the games they played.
The caveat at the time, which was very early in the days of COVID-19, was that players would only return to the field if fans were in the stands. This was perceived as a safety measure of players, but now owners are flipping it on its head — saying that while both sides now agree it will be possible to play in empty stadiums, that means less revenue for the owners … so they’re demanding massive, sliding salary cuts for the players.
MLS team owners got a proposal from players this weekend in which players agreed to leave their families for a month-long tournament in Orlando, take an across-the-board pay cut, and also extend the current CBA by a year, per a report from ESPN. This is the players basically conceding that this is a lost year for MLS and allowing the owners time to regroup before they enact a new CBA which sees more revenue sharing as part of a new TV deal.
MLS owners flatly rejected it, demanding larger pay cuts, and more importantly — bigger concessions in the already negotiated CBA. And now it appears that the owners may lockout the players.
To people who say: Well, coronavirus means that these owners are losing money. It sure does! But guess who else is losing money? The players! Everyone around the globe is losing money right now (except, of course, billionaires). This is a global pandemic.
Baseball organizations will be in the red this year, but the 10 richest MLB owners alone are worth over 35 billion, with a B, dollars. These owners’ insistence on extra salary cuts, on cutting minor leaguers’ measly $400-a-week stipend, on furloughing staff, isn’t about anything but greed. These owners are going to lose some money this year. They’ve got billions. They’ll be fine.
On the MLS side, where business isn’t as robust, I would argue it’s even more essential to get these players back on the field. These owners trying to turn a pandemic into negotiating leverage for larger CBA talks is nuts — their league is on the verge of relevance, and they’re going to lock out their players?
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MLS isn’t the NFL. It isn’t the NBA. MLS is not the biggest league in the world for its sport, and arguably not even in the top ten. If MLS goes into an extended work stoppage, players will sue to get out of contracts and go play elsewhere. Or they’ll stay home and not risk getting coronavirus.
These teams are paying lip service for the need to get back on the field for the fans. They want to inspire and entertain us, they claim. They will risk the health of the players and team staff to do so.
But these owners just can’t pass up a chance to squeeze, can they? It’s insulting to players and fans — they owners are using a pandemic to try and get bigger, larger concessions, to make the players take the brunt of the pandemic pain, and not themselves.
Monday’s Big Winners: Eric Reid and Steve Kerr
The two took to Twitter to call out VP Mike Pence for saying that he respected all forms of peaceful protest, just two years after Pence notably walked out of an NFL game as players … peacefully protested.
Quick hits: MJ, Lewis Hamilton, NASCAR, more
– Michael Jordan spoke out on the death of George Floyd: “We have had enough.”
– Lewis Hamilton called out the entirety of F1 for their silence on the topic of Floyd and the repeated police killing of black people.
– Our own Michelle Martinelli surveyed the social media presence of every current NASCAR driver racing for a team … and found only three had spoken up on Floyd or the protests.
– JR Smith caught a protestor trying to smash his window and delivered some quick justice.
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