Gaming

Column: MLB is playing a dangerous game by canceling games

Column: MLB is playing a dangerous game by canceling games

Jane Jones resides in an independent seniors’ residence in Mission Hills.

The library and the salons where she lives have been closed since the start of the pandemic. She rarely visits friends or family.

Jane wrote letters from former Padres manager Jayce Tingler in her neat cursive once or twice a month. (He kept the letters, and she’s one of the few he’s ever replied to.) Jane is also one of this writer’s most frequent emails. His missives, still sent from his iPad, are overwhelmingly positive, even amid losing streaks and clubhouse upheavals, death of friends and cancellation of family gatherings.

In correspondence over the past two years, it is abundantly clear that the highlight of Jane’s days from April through September are those hours when she sits in front of the television watching Padres games.

“Yes I’m staying up till the end,” she wrote at some point in 2020, aged 89.

She plans to attend a game at Petco Park in late April or early May to celebrate her 91st birthday.st birthday.

“I hope it happens,” she wrote this week.

That this may not be the case – and, moreover, the main reason for this possibility being that the Major League Baseball lockout could still be in progress – is enough to prompt an extremely rare spade from Jane. .

“I’m very disgusted, to say the least,” she wrote.

So it’s small consolation to her or anyone else who cares about baseball that they’re supposed to be top of mind in the minds of MLB commissioner Rob Manfred and all team owners.

“Concern about our fans is high on our consideration list,” Manfred said Tuesday.

The problem with that statement, as it did at a news conference following the breakdown of talks on a new collective bargaining agreement between the league and its players’ union, is the thing baseball fans need the most, as part of their fandom is the ability to watch, listen, read and talk about real games.

Manfred has said a myriad of things in recent weeks that have raised eyebrows and dropped jaws.

One such statement was his claim that an investment banker studied finance and determined that owning an MLB team was not as lucrative as investing in the stock market. This is despite the fact that team values ​​have almost quadrupled and the league’s collective revenue has increased by around 75% in a decade.

But that claim was eminently believable over the statement that fans were a priority, coming as it did on the day he announced that those waiting until next year would have to wait a bit longer.

“It seems that Manfred…and the owners are deaf to the fans of the game and the dwindling number of true fans,” Padres fan Jeff McMillan wrote in an email this week.

There are plenty of reasons to separate the Padres ownership group from the broader team owners who are holding a hard line against some compromises that could lead to a deal and the start of spring training. (Padres vice-president Ron Fowler is part of the MLB worker contingent and has participated in virtually every negotiating session. He and president Peter Seidler, like all owners, have remained publicly silent during the lockdown. .)

The main difference is that the Padres have been spending money aggressively on veteran players in recent seasons. Additionally, a ticket price increase for 2022 was the team’s first since 2016 and came a year after a playoff appearance and three years of investment that increased the team’s payroll by about 85% from 2018 to 21.

“With Ron Fowler and, now, Peter Seidler at the helm, it’s clear they’ve chosen the ‘win the World Series’ path,” Padres subscription member David Gibbs said in an email this week.

Gibbs pitted Fowler and Seidler against a number of former Padres owners. He might well have pitted them against many who currently own other franchises.

Of the dozens of emails I’ve received about the lockdown in recent days, none expressed explicit sympathy for landlords as a group or even acknowledged that union standoffs should be taken with caution.

To be sure, there were a few who reviled the players.

There were several others who also saw at least some guilt on the part of the players, who are fighting for a system that pays younger players better and improves the chances of more teams fielding competitive rosters.

“The MLBPA trying to force owners to acquiesce to past CBA losses is not fair,” Karyn Frawley wrote. “Owners squeezing every penny from players is not fair. They both have to love the game and give back to the fans.

Overwhelmingly, however, the cause of this mess has been put on the doorstep and directed at team owners.

McMillan factored into his “bitterness” his disappointment at not being able to attend his first-ever spring training game last week, which was to be part of a birthday present.

Either way, he was right.

It’s a bad time for MLB to bench. And that puts aside for a while that overall baseball viewership and attendance has plummeted.

“With everything going on in this world right now, this couldn’t come at a worse time,” wrote Scott Sveinsson, who lives in Phoenix and was looking forward to the spring games.

“After two years of COVID and being cooped up in my house, the idea of ​​spring training and a ‘back to normal’ baseball season was such a bright spot for 2022,” Bob wrote. Grier.

“When you compare this lockdown to the current life or death situation in Ukraine,” Kraig Haviland wrote, “wealthy people fighting over nickels and pennies seem so deaf that I’ve completely lost interest “.

Many fans expressed a similar sentiment. Several have pledged to boycott the games. Some said they would give up baseball altogether.

Karl Sorenson stopped short of making such a proclamation.

“It’s shocking to me that the one thing the owners seem to have taken away from the NFL is that it’s okay to treat your fans with contempt and contempt,” he wrote. “I left the NFL completely when they left San Diego. Although it’s going to hurt for a little while, I can do the same with baseball. Owners have to understand that. It only took me a season to adjust to a post-NFL life, and I really appreciate having my Sundays completely free. I suspect it would be the same with baseball.

Sorenson’s greeting included this after his name: “Padres season ticket holder (for now)”

While there are no doubt San Diegans who will stay away in protest or out of disgust or indifference, the Padres would seem better positioned than most to pick up on the door post-lockdown. San Diego, which has only one major professional sports franchise left, is hungry for a winner. And fan sentiment appears to be in favor of cutting Seidler and Co. on hiatus.

Beyond San Diego, there’s simply no way to know how the fans will react. But it seems dangerous for baseball to risk further reducing its presence.

MLB’s last work stoppage (the players’ strike that interrupted the 1994 season and caused a late start to the 1995 campaign) ended about a year before the first social networking site went live. The internet wasn’t even a thing back then. Mobile phones do not play video. Netflix had not shipped its first DVD. People were watching movies on DVD.

A Seton Hall Stillman School of Business poll in December found that 44% of “passionate fans” said they would be less interested in baseball if there was a work stoppage. Of those described as “sports fans”, 30% said they would be less interested. These numbers are all the more troubling given that the poll indicates that 54% of the “general population” expressed no interest in MLB.

“We know from previous work stoppages, whether management-initiated (lockout) or labor (strike), that fans tend to come back,” said Charles Grantham, director of the Center for Sport. Management at the Stillman School of Business, in a press release. accompanying the survey results. “Today, however, there is immense competition in the entertainment field. These numbers are not encouraging and should be of great concern for a sport that is trying to reverse a steady decline in ratings and attendance. .

Baseball had in 1994 reached its highest average attendance (31,256) in history. This declined from over 6,000 per game in 1995 and only returned above 30,000 in 2004. The average was a record high of 32,692 in 2007 and 32,382 in 2008. It has remained fairly stable just above 30,000 from 2009 to 2016 before dropping each of the following three years. The pandemic kept fans out in 2020, and most baseball diamonds were under capacity limits for much of 21.

Baseball teams derive about half of their revenue from game days (tickets, concessions, parking).

“What disappoints me is that neither party now seems to remember the impact of the 1994 players’ strike on fans and that fans have found other outlets for those entertainment dollars,” wrote Padres fan Harold Williams, who, along with his wife, has held half-season tickets since 2008. “Frustrated is a very sweet understatement. On the whole, the owners, with a few exceptions, are very short-sighted in this matter and (bear) a greater share of the blame for the current state of baseball. … The two parties must gather their negotiators in a room and lock the door until they have reached an agreement. Anything short of this effort is a slap in the face to the fans, who are ultimately responsible through their ticket purchases, team gear and watching games on TV for the funds. that these two parties are fighting over.