MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement: Who Cares?

by on March 6th, 2015
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Is our national pastime past its time? The major sports stories regarding the big three sports-MLB, NFL, NBA-have been the NFL and NBA lockouts. The NFL lockout was over 100 days and the NBA lockout has become big news. Many are predicting the upcoming NBA season will not even happen.

But there is another major story that sports fans are not aware of and, if it becomes news, will certainly hurt baseball. Already, MLB has been struggling for ratings. All around the world, the NBA and NFL seem to be gaining while the popularity of the MLB is waning.

On Dec. 11, 2011, the MLB collective bargaining agreement will end. It is big news, but obviously not one that concerns the media. Survey sports fans about the collective bargaining agreements, and the majority will be familiar with the NFL and NBA’s situation. Few, if any, will be aware that the MLB CBA will end soon.

MLB would be wise to make this a non-issue and not get any negative media attention. MLB has already lost significant interest in America and can ill afford any more negativity. This year alone, NFL preseason games have close to doubled the viewers that watched last year’s MLB playoffs.

Last year’s playoffs and World Series were woeful in comparison to NFL preseason. Game 3, in which the Texas Rangers won 4-2 over the San Francisco Giants, drew a 6.7 TV rating (percentage of TV homes), the second-lowest ever for a World Series game. The only World Series telecast to suffer a lower rating was Game 3 of the 2008 series between the Philadelphia Phillies and Tampa Bay Rays. That game was delayed 90 minutes by rain and didn’t get going until after 10 p.m ET.

On the other hand, even though the NFL’s preseason comes on the heels of a CBA dispute, the average NFL exhibition ratings have been 4.5, not too far off.

Last year, NBC’s Saints-Steelers regular-season game drew an 11.8 rating vs. a 10.4 rating for Fox’s coverage of the Giants’ Game 4 victory.

The Colts-Texans regular-season game narrowly lost to the World Series. But the NFL game was on cable, which applies to 80 percent of the households. Not all cable packages include ESPN. Many have basic cable with no ESPN. Had the Colts and Texans been broadcast on national TV, there would have been a significant increase.

ESPN’s broadcast of the Tennessee Titans’ 30-3 win against the Jacksonville Jaguars drew a rating of 7.2, while TBS’s broadcast of the Texas Rangers’ Game 3 win against the New York Yankees drew a 6.5 rating.

It was the succeeding night that NFL beat baseball playoffs head to head, with the Colts-Redskins game drawing more than twice the ratings the Giants-Phillies game received on Sunday night.

But the Titans-Jaguars’ ratings win is notable because it had two teams from smaller TV markets. The baseball game, which was only a two-run game going into the ninth inning, featured the league’s leading team (Yankees) from the nation’s principal TV market.

We can see from this year and last that the NFL is overwhelmingly more popular than MLB and if MLB is not careful, it could slip even further down the sports food chain.

Baseball is in danger of being like the Swiss watchmakers of old. Up until the 1970s, the Swiss watchmakers dominated the market. When quartz technology first came on the scene, the Swiss were not concerned and continued to do business as usual. As Asian and American watch industries embraced this quartz technology, Switzerland continued to ignore it.

What ensued was a near collapse of the Swiss watchmaking economy. What was once known as the best watches in the world now experienced insolvency at a record pace. If baseball is not careful, they too will suffer the same fate as the once-great watchmakers of Switzerland.

With clear ratings decline and NFL growth, baseball needs to be wary and not make the same mistake as the Swiss watchmakers. The first thing Bud Selig should do this offseason is to make the labor agreement a nonissue and a non-story. With sports fans soured from the recent NFL labor dispute and a vicious NBA labor dispute pending, MLB can ill afford any negative publicity that will cause their shrinking fanbase to lose even more interest.

MLB is definitely past its prime. If there is a bitter labor dispute, baseball as America’s pastime could be past its time for good.

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