Like most sports leagues around the world, Major League Baseball is currently on indefinite hiatus because of the growing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) threat. Spring training was suspended last month and Opening Day has been pushed back to at least mid-May, and it could be moved back even further as the situation develops.
MLB advanced the union $170 million as part of the agreement, which won't have to be paid back if the season is canceled., including player compensation. Players will receive the prorated portion of their salary in 2020, so, if 81 games are played, players will receive half their salary.
If baseball does return this season, it is likely it will return without fans in the stands, at least initially. MLB and the MLBPA both want to play as many games as possible and that could mean starting the regular season before social distancing guidelines are relaxed for the general public. No fans would mean no ticket or concession revenue.
As a result, MLB may ask the players to take further pay cuts to offset the lost revenue, report Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich of The Athletic. Drellich and Rosenthal say the MLBPA considers the matter closed since the two sides agreed to prorated salaries last month. Per Drellich and Rosenthal, a league spokesperson said that "both parties understood that the deal was premised on playing in stadiums with fans and the agreement makes that clear."
New York governor Andrew Cuomo referenced potential player salary cuts during an CNN appearance Wednesday night, citing a conversation with Mets owner Jeff Wilpon. "Apparently Major League Baseball would have to make a deal with the players because if you have no one in the stands then the numbers are going to change, right? The economics are going to change," Cuomo said.
Here's what agent Scott Boras told Drellich and Rosenthal regarding Cuomo's comment:
"Mr. Wilpon apparently failed to inform Governor Cuomo that players and owners already reached a good-faith agreement which contemplated MLB games without fans and at neutral sites," agent Scott Boras said. "Further, the players in this agreement agreed to be paid a fraction of their full salary based upon games played divided by 162."
MLB and the owners have been trying to redirect money away from the players and into their pockets for decades now and, in some respects, they've succeeded. Player salaries and team payrolls are not increasing at the same rate as league revenues. It is no surprise then that MLB may want players to take additional pay cuts following the shutdown.
These days teams make more money through television than gate revenue, though some teams have more lucrative television deals than others, and some rely more heavily on ticket sales. Not every club would be impacted by empty stands equally. That's something MLB will have to address once the season resumes, especially if fans are not allowed in the ballpark.
For now, MLB and the MLBPA will focus on a plan to make a 2020 season feasible. It's not until Opening Day is set and the entire season is mapped out that the two sides can begin to understand and unwrap the economic issues. Given their tendency to nickel and dime the players, MLB asking the union to take another pay cut seems very possible.