A revision to embargo rules is poised to radically alter the signing of Cuban players

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Yesterday the Obama administration announced an alteration to rules related to the Cuban embargo which will, eventually, allow Cuban players to receive salaries directly from Major League Baseball teams without requiring them to defect.

Until this change, which goes into effect immediately, U.S. businesses could not enter into any deals in which American money would go to Cuba, as the point of the embargo was to choke off any economic support for the Castro regime. Practically speaking, this required defection of Cuban baseball players which, in turn, often forced them into dangerous situations and arrangements with human traffickers. Even if their passage out of Cuba wasn’t technically human trafficking, it often led to people taking exorbitant cuts of their contracts due to the power they had over the player as he tried to make his way to the United States. Now, theoretically, a player can simply enter into a deal with a U.S. team from his home in Cuba.

It’s not that simple, of course. Cuba still has a strong interest in not losing its best players and will likely (a) prevent many players, particularly more promising young ones, from signing such deals; and (b) impose restrictions on those who are allowed to sign in which the government takes a huge cut of their money and requires them to meet certain Cuban National Team obligations and the like. For an example, one can look at the rules to which Cuban players who have been allowed to play in Japan and Korea are subject.

But this does take the side of restrictions emanating from the U.S. out of the equation.

MLB crowds jump from ’21, still below pre-pandemic levels

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PHOENIX — Even with the homer heroics of sluggers like Aaron Judge and Albert Pujols, Major League Baseball wasn’t able to coax fans to ballparks at pre-pandemic levels this season, though attendance did jump substantially from the COVID-19 affected campaign in 2021.

The 30 MLB teams drew nearly 64.6 million fans for the regular season that ended Wednesday, which is up from the 45.3 million who attended games in 2021, according to baseball-reference.com. This year’s numbers are still down from the 68.5 million who attended games in 2019, which was the last season that wasn’t affected by the pandemic.

The 111-win Los Angeles Dodgers led baseball with 3.86 million fans flocking to Dodger Stadium for an average of 47,672 per contest. The Oakland Athletics – who lost 102 games, play in an aging stadium and are the constant subject of relocation rumors – finished last, drawing just 787,902 fans for an average of less than 10,000 per game.

The St. Louis Cardinals finished second, drawing 3.32 million fans. They were followed by the Yankees (3.14 million), defending World Series champion Braves (3.13 million) and Padres (2.99 million).

The Toronto Blue Jays saw the biggest jump in attendance, rising from 805,901 fans to about 2.65 million. They were followed by the Cardinals, Yankees, Mariners, Dodgers, and Mets, which all drew more than a million fans more than in 2021.

The Rangers and Reds were the only teams to draw fewer fans than in 2021.

Only the Rangers started the 2021 season at full capacity and all 30 teams weren’t at 100% until July. No fans were allowed to attend regular season games in 2020.

MLB attendance had been declining slowly for years – even before the pandemic – after hitting its high mark of 79.4 million in 2007. This year’s 64.6 million fans is the fewest in a non-COVID-19 season since the sport expanded to 30 teams in 1998.

The lost attendance has been balanced in some ways by higher viewership on the sport’s MLB.TV streaming service. Viewers watched 11.5 billion minutes of content in 2022, which was a record high and up nearly 10% from 2021.