Like many other professional sports, Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball seasons have been postponed indefinitely due to the coronavirus. Spring games have been cancelled, and the 2020 regular season will be delayed by at least two weeks due to the national emergency. With the postponement of MLB and MiLB games, players face the possibility of not being paid part or all of their salary. The NBA has taken a microscope to the CBA to interpret the “force majeure” clause. This clause is applicable when, due to “acts of God,” the contract cannot be carried out as previously agreed upon. If the players cannot perform their obligations due to a “force majeure event” the players would lose 1/92.6th of their salary for each missed game that cannot be rescheduled.
In contrast, Major League Soccer Player Association executive director Bob Foose stated that the union’s CBA does not include any force majeure language, thus MLS players “are receiving, and will continue to receive, their regular bimonthly paychecks.” Under Major League Baseball’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, Commissioner Robert Manfred has the authority to suspend play contracts, including pay, in the event of a national emergency. However, the MLB Players Association is still negotiating some of the salary-related details for the weeks to come. With so much uncertainty, it is still possible the MLB and MiLB will follow suit of the NBA, NHL and MLS and suspend their regular season, leaving the financial stability of the MLB and MiLB players in the air. MLB stated that the action to postpone the season “is being taken in the interests of the safety and well-being of our players, Clubs and our millions of loyal fans.”
So far, the MLB’s concern for their players and their Clubs has extended to Minor League Baseball players. Major League Baseball has stepped up in the middle of a pandemic to support the minor league players. More than three million people filed for unemployment benefits last week, while Major League Baseball made the decision to extend their support to minor league players until May 31. The economic relief that minor league players are going to receive amounts to $400 a week, plus medical benefits.
The future of Major and Minor League Baseball is still uncertain, but for 162 minor league clubs from Single-A through Triple-A, the economic relief is crucial. Many of the minor league baseball clubs do not have any media rights, thus even playing the games without spectators would likely not be financially advantageous. Minor League teams make their money during their season; therefore, without the crucial game-related revenues coming in, there is a possibility many clubs will have to close for good.With the agreement between the MLB and MiLB expiring in September, it brings into question how the MLB will move forward with the MiLB. Prior to the coronavirus, the MLB was negotiating the possibility of shutting down as many as 40 MiLB clubs.
These negotiations were extremely heated, and the frustrations are palpable in the letters sent back and forth between the MLB and the MiLB. In late January, Minor League Baseball released a letter that it sent to Commissioner Rob Manfred. This letter was in opposition to the Major League Baseball proposal to reorganize the minor leagues. In part, Deputy Commissioner Dan Halem wrote that “MiLB and you personally are doing significant damage to your relationship with the 30 Clubs by attacking MLB publicly and in the political realm.” Halem goes on to say, “. . . that it is clear that this negotiation is not about MiLB trying to preserve baseball in small towns across America . . . and It is also [not] about Major League Baseball trying to cut costs.” It is clear through this excerpt of the letter that negotiations between Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball were not going to smoothly prior to the coronavirus.
Further begging the question, how will MLB’s generosity during the COVID crisis impact the negotiations going forward? Will Minor League Baseball clubs that survive COVID-19 survive the negotiations in September? Like so many other questions, these will likely go unanswered until the pandemic slows, or until September. Either way, the extension of financial support for MiLB players will not solely keep the minor leagues alive.