Bernie Sanders takes aim at MLB’s ‘corporate greed’

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Last month, we learned that Major League Baseball was working to reorganize the minor leagues which would involve cutting 42 teams. In response, U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders issued a statement saying that contracting minor league teams “would be a disaster for baseball fans, workers, and communities across the country. We must protect these teams from corporate greed.” He also sent a letter to Rob Manfred in which he threatened baseball’s antitrust exemption if he proceeded with the plan.

Four days ago Manfred and Sanders had a meeting. After that meeting, Manfred issued a statement which said, well, basically nothing apart from previously-issued MLB talking points. That kind of thing often ends criticism of Major League Baseball. People tend to move on because, hey, it’s just a sport. Bernie Sanders is not simply moving on. Sanders called Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times yesterday, and he’s still hopping mad at about Manfred’s contraction plan.

After noting the positive effect he observed when minor league baseball came to his home state of Vermont — kids going to games that families can afford, baseball in a casual, up-close-and-personal setting, and the improvement of community spirit — he took aim at Manfred and the owners:

We have a situation today where Major League Baseball is mostly owned by a group of billionaires, people who have tremendous wealth. Last year, Major League Baseball made nearly $1.2 billion in profits, up 38% from the previous year. It is a business that uniquely receives an antitrust exemption from the United States Congress and over the years has received many hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate welfare from communities all over this country where taxpayers build stadiums for their owners. So this is a business that must respond to the needs of the American people, and you cannot do that — they should not do that — by shutting down baseball in 42 communities around this country.

Sanders went on to call it a simple matter of “corporate greed” on the part of Major League Baseball and the “group of billionaires” who own its teams.

Oftentimes Sanders is either alone or in small company when he goes in on the billionaire class. This is a different situation. That letter that Sanders sent to Manfred was signed by over 100 of his fellow members of Congress, including conservative Republicans like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. When you talk about taking baseball out of small towns, you tend to see partisan lines fade a good deal.

Representatives from Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball are meeting in San Diego this weekend and, likely, into next week at the Winter Meetings. It would not be at all surprising if we hear much more about Manfred’s contraction plan — assuming it still exists — in the coming days.

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.