Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association are nearing an agreement after months of acrimony to begin an abbreviated season sometime in late July.
Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred and MLBPA executive director Tony Clark met Tuesday at Clark’s home in the Phoenix area in an attempt to jumpstart talks between the two sides, Sportico was told by a source with knowledge of the discussions.
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Manfred confirmed the meeting later in the day, saying in a statement that the two sides had developed a “jointly developed framework we agreed could form the basis of an agreement.”
The meeting between the two leaders marked the first time they’ve spoken face-to-face during months of negotiations that have thus far proven to be fruitless.
On Wednesday, baseball owners created a framework for an agreement to play a 60-game season starting as soon as July 19, followed by an extended postseason this year as well as in 2021, according to sources. The players would be paid 100% of their salaries on a pro rata basis.
A second spring training would begin by the end of June, according to sources, though details such as location, number and type of exhibition games have yet to be resolved. In addition, a number of health, safety and testing protocols have yet to be agreed upon.
MLBPA said “reports of an agreement are false” in a statement. The game has been dormant since March 12 when Manfred canceled the remainder of spring training and delayed the start of the regular season because of the imminent spread of the coronavirus across North America. That decision was followed by a day the stoppage of play by the National Basketball Association and by hours the National Hockey League.
Both those sports have already agreed upon formats to complete their regular season and play the postseason, although formal dates for starting have yet to be announced.
By playing games this year, the owners will make most of their $1.7 billion total average annual national television money if the can get to a postseason in October, though some medical professionals are predicting another surge in the cases of COVID-19 this fall.
Without fans in the stands, MLB is losing billions in sales from tickets, sponsorships, advertising, suites, concessions and merchandise.
The only other source of revenue for teams comes from local television and radio, which totals $2.1 billion for the 30 franchises. To get that figure, each team would have to play 120 games.
For example, a season of 60 games would then provide about $1.05 billion for the owners.
Any deal between the MLBPA and team owners will reflect a changing sports landscape since the sides began talks. On March 26, they agreed that the union would receive $170 million to split among the players with a pro rata payment of salary based on remaining games, provided the following criteria were met:
1. Games could be played in front of fans.
2. Teams could travel unencumbered between cities in North America.
3. A clear path to play without health concerns was granted by a government group like the CDC.
None of those criteria have been met and won’t be in the foreseeable future.
Owners have been trying for weeks and through multiple proposals to get players to take a percentage of less money based on the projection of much-reduced revenue without fans attending games.
The players have rebuffed the owners at all turns, sticking to their 100-percent pay based on the number of regular-season games.
On the day spring training was canceled, there were 1,663 reported cases and 40 deaths associated to the disease in the U.S. As of Wednesday, there were 2.15 million cases and 117,301 deaths with many more predicted by the time baseball players would take the field when the season begins sometime next month.
Barry M. Bloom is a reporter for Sportico, Penske Media’s new sports business platform.