Major League Baseball would like to launch a 2020 season in July, with 82 games and an expanded postseason and above all else the return of sport. The MLB Players Association, however, seems to be prepared to balk at the concept of revenue sharing — given that revenues will be dramatically limited by games played without fans present.
The current negotiations follow last month’s deal, pursuant to which the owners agreed to advance $170 million in salary and the players agreed not to challenge any salaries forfeited during games lost to the pandemic. Even though the Yankees alone have $250 million in salary commitments for 2020, it’s a good deal for the players, given that paragraph 11 of the Uniform Player Contract states that each player’s agreement is subject to “the right of the Commissioner to suspend the operation of this contract during any national emergency during which Major League Baseball is not played.”
So either the players don’t play during the ongoing national emergency and don’t get paid (beyond the $170 million) or they play and get full pay. There’s nothing in the labor deal or the player contract that authorizes the league to pay the players less than full pay, if games are played.
That’s the player’s leverage, and they have every right to use it. The owners, if they had wanted, could have placed terms in the CBA requiring the players to, for example, share revenue in the event that games are played under circumstances (like a pandemic) that reduce the flow of cash into the league’s coffers.
The potential impasse between baseball and its union is relevant to the NFL because, unlike baseball’s standard player contract, the NFL by all appearances has no authority to reduce or withhold player pay if the season doesn’t happen and/or if games are played with no fans present.
Sports-starved fans seem to be poised to align with baseball’s owners on this one, with the players getting the blame as selfish, no-good so-and-so’s unless they agree to play for less than they’re supposed to receive under their labor deal. That same dynamic easily could apply to the NFL, if the NFL Players Association drives a hard bargain in conjunction with any negotiations that may happen regarding potential adjustments to player salaries based on reduced revenue in 2020.
Under the NFL’s labor deal and standard player contract, the players arguably get 100 cents on the dollar, even if there are no games. Obviously, then, NFL players will be able to insist on full pay for games played without fans. The NFLPA also will have to approve of any proposal by the league to get games played, such as the relocation of California teams to other states for the season or, if all else fails, a Bio-Dome approach that would have all teams in Florida or some other central location.
So let’s all be willing to take a step back, if the NFL and the NFLPA end up grappling over the financial terms of the 2020 season, and to be ready to consider who is and isn’t being reasonable, given the pre-negotiated terms. Hopefully, those in the media who are quick to blame the union for negotiating a bad deal when a given term works out in a way that hurts the players will be willing to point a finger at the NFL for failing to negotiate better terms regarding a pandemic or other circumstances that prevent games from being played — and in turn for trying to prop up a bas deal by waging a P.R. battle against players who would simply be saying what the NFL would say if the tables were turned: The deal is the deal, we intend to honor it, and we expect you to honor it, too.