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Do not believe MLB’s claims about how much money it stands to lose

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Over the weekend a story from the Associated Press about Major League Baseball’s potential financial losses got a lot of traction. The headline: “MLB projects $640K per game loss with no fans.” Inside the article it was claimed that even if a season is played, “doing so without fans would still lead to a $4 billion loss and would give major league players 89% of revenue.”

That story, and subsequent stories citing anonymous MLB sources, is clearly intended to paint a picture of a season which cannot happen absent massive concessions from players. Concessions, mind you, that MLB has told multiple reporters it requires, but which it has not yet formally requested from the players. Which is to say: this is a public relations onslaught.

The thing about it, though: the numbers are mostly bunk.

Yesterday at Fangraphs, Craig Edwards walked through the claims in both the AP article and from other sources and compared it to what is known about MLB finances. He found that, in multiple ways, the figures are misleading. They leave out large chunks of revenue MLB and its owners will realize. They include costs, such as spending on the amateur draft, that that have already been deferred to the future. The AP article neglects to mention that the money MLB claims it will lose due to broadcasters holding back broadcast rights money for games not played is, often, money being saved by the same businesses which own teams because a lot of teams have interests in their cable network. Sure, SNY might not be paying the Mets for some games, but every penny SNY saves is a money Fred Wilpon saves.

Which is to say a great deal of what MLB is claiming as a loss can be characterized very differently depending on how one accounts for it. Which is something anyone who is familiar with the history of Major League Baseball’s economic landscape knows has long been a part of the game’s creative approach to finances.

None of which is to say that what’s going to happen is good for the game’s finances, necessarily. But Edwards’ conclusion is far closer to the mark than the alarmism coming from MLB:

Ultimately, owners might lose money this season, but just how much is up for debate. If the teams play games, it certainly won’t be the $4 billion figure that is being floated. And even without a postseason, playing the games and paying players prorated salaries results in more incremental revenue per game for owners than skipping the season.

But, under the current plans being floated, there will be a postseason,. If it comes off as planned — complete with an additional round — even the losses claimed by MLB will be substantially ameliorated.

Indeed, it seems to me that far more hinges on the 2020 season having a postseason than anything the players agree to or don’t agree to as far as salary goes. If they play October baseball (or November baseball), things will likely be fine for MLB. Not flush like the past few years, but something the league and its teams can ride out pretty well. If for some reason they don’t — if, say, we get a nasty second wave COVID-19 outbreak and even the limited season plans are washed out — it will be worse.

Either way, though, as Edwards shows, there’s a huge reason not to buy what MLB and its surrogates in the media are selling about the financial state of affairs at the moment. Be wary of those claims. Always.

As unrest continues, Major League Baseball and its clubs have been mostly silent

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The police killing of George Floyd on May 25 has sparked outrage against police brutality both across the country and around the world. Protests which began in Minneapolis spread to multiple cities over this past weekend. In the saddest of ironies, these protests against the unlawful and excessive use of force has led to police employing even more unlawful and excessive use of force against protesters, most of whom have engaged in peaceful, constitutionally-protected activities. This has all lead to additional deaths, countless injuries, thousands of arrests, and the targeting of journalists by police and government authorities. As of this very moment, that unrest continues.

As Bill noted yesterday, a great many of ballplayers and managers have spoken out against police brutality and in support of those rallying against it. We have heard almost nothing, however, from Major League Baseball and its clubs.

Major League Baseball has issued no official statement in response to the unrest. Only four teams — the Twins, Athletics, Giants, and Blue Jays — have issued statements of their own. The Miami Marlins released a statement from CEO Derek Jeter, but as you can see below, they make a point to say that it’s Jeter’s sentiment, not that of the club. The Dodgers, well, scroll down and we’ll see what they’ve done. It’s kinda awkward.

The Twins’ statement on Friday was in specific reference to George Floyd’s killing:

The Blue Jays’ statement is the most recent:

The Giants released this yesterday:

As we noted yesterday, the Oakland A’s paired their statement with the announcement of a charitable donation:

Here’s Derek Jeter, tweeted out by the Marlins, who have made no statement on behalf of the club:

Finally the Dodgers:

That’s obviously not about Floyd’s killing or any of the unrest, but I take that as a tacit acknowledgment of it all and the judgment that maybe today is not a good day for a Zoom party. Which, hey, is better than the 24 other teams whose Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, and websites would have you believe that nothing has happened in the country in the past week.

Contrast that with the NBA which, as of late this morning anyway, has seen 23 of its 30 franchises release a statement on their Twitter feed related to George Floyd’s killing

Not that the five baseball teams who have said something are deserving of full laurels here. Notable in their statements — even in the Twins’ statement which specifically references Floyd — is the complete absence of any reference to law enforcement or police brutality. For that matter, only five of the NBA teams who spoke out specifically mentioned that. One of them is the Washington Wizards. Here’s how easy it is to say such a thing:

 

Given that the very impetus of the events upon which the teams and leagues are attempting to speak out is the behavior of law enforcement and police brutality, its rather amazing that so few mention it. Indeed, it’s impossible to see these statements as anything other than organizations trying extraordinarily hard not to mention that.

Many of you are probably asking right now (a) why it should matter if professional sports teams or leagues speak out; and (b) if they do, why it should matter if they specifically mention police brutality. Let’s talk about that, shall we?

A broad answer to that is that sports teams and leagues are citizens like the rest of us and are comprised of citizens like the rest of us. They’re important members of the communities in which they play and their leadership and example are important to a great many people. They routinely release statements about things such as natural disasters, global pandemics, notable deaths, and any manner of other of non-sports event which impacts their communities. How massive public uprisings that are clearly affecting many of their own players is mostly given a miss is beyond me.

A more specific answer: the leagues and teams are never hesitant, for one moment, to comment on social progress, including racial progress, when it occurs and when they are a part of it. They are likewise quick to embrace and promote law enforcement when it suits their interests and puts law enforcement in a good light. Most teams host law enforcement appreciation nights, for example. Is it not fair to ask a baseball team that appreciates law enforcement for the good things it does to at least comment on the bad things it does? Is it not fair to ask why they are being so silent in this regard when the behavior of law enforcement is not anything to be appreciated?

One hopes that Major League Baseball’s silence on this matter is one of simple but understandable timidity to weigh in on a matter of such gravity. That the league and its teams are taking their time to craft just the right statements and that, when they got them down perfectly, they’ll be released.

One hopes, in contrast, that their failure to do so as of yet is not a function of their belief that these matters do not affect them, their players, their employees, their fans, and the communities which support them.