Just months after the Atlanta Braves took home a World Series title over the Houston Astros, the baseball scene in North America has gone quiet. The rush on free agents as teams look to stock their cupboards for another run at the World Series in 2022 has stopped and things have come to a grinding halt elsewhere. On Thursday, December 2nd, the league informed players that they had locked them out, the first work stoppage since 1990.
Whether you think the players are greedy for wanting more money all the time or you believe the owners should pay up, this looks good on no one. Baseball is suffering from a narrative of a dying sport, but revenue has been rising steadily each season and even in a pandemic-shortened 2020 season where little to no fans were allowed in the fans, they hauled in a massive $3.66 billion USD.
There is no question that baseball is going to be okay in the long run. There is absolutely no threat of the league finding themselves in financial ruin in the near future no matter how much the owners cry about one season where they only made $3.66 billion. The players want their fair share of the pie and owners to want to make as much money as possible all while paying out the least money possible. It’s always been like that, and it will always be like that.
Who is or isn’t at fault for this lockout isn’t the end all be all. Regardless of who you think that might be, there’s no question that a lockout is bad for everyone but particularly bad for the people who have given the league the money; the fans.
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Without the fans, baseball wouldn’t be able to squabble over amounts of money that most people wouldn’t see in 100 lifetimes. They wouldn’t have massive televisions deals worth billions of dollars, they wouldn’t have owners gouging their cities for billion-dollar stadiums, and there certainly wouldn’t be players signing contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
If Major League Baseball and commissioner Rob Manfred can take comfort in one thing, it’s that the hardcore fans will be back no matter how long this lockout lasts. The big issue with that, however, is that it’s not typically the hardcore fans that generate the real money for the league, and that couldn’t be any more evident than when you look at attendance figures.
In general, the 2021 season brought attendance figures that had the better teams on the top and the struggling teams towards the bottom. Six teams in the league failed to register 1,000,000 total fans in attendance (this includes the Toronto Blue Jays who played in minor league venues for a large portion of the season). The hardcore fans showed up to those games, but when the team is bad, the casual fan (who baseball constantly tries to attract) goes away.
The difference between a decent season and a great season for teams is those casual fans. If there’s one surefire way to lose those casual fans, it’s by going away for an extended period of time. In the Canadian Football League, we have seen attendance figures down since 2019 after a pandemic-cancelled season.
We have seen a complete halt on baseball in terms of on-field news, something that keeps the casual fans engaged. This has been completed by any mention of players being scrubbed from the MLB’s website and all player faces being replaced with the now infamous generic player. There’s really nothing to be excited about with your favourite team and fans are just hoping that things can be sorted out before spring training.
When baseball will be back in service, no one really knows. Every day spent in a lockout is one more day that casual fans are losing interest in the game or the team they cheer for. This is good for no one, and it looks really bad on the league and the players. Neither party is innocent, but neither will suffer as the fans will. The only way to save themselves from all of the negativity is to get back onto the field as soon as possible.
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