Social Media’s Impact on Sports Negotiations

Photo via Houston Chronicle

In today’s world , anyone can share their opinion at the click of a button. Social media has drastically shaped and changed people’s opinions on popular discussions including politics, investment trends, and now professional sports. Along with the strong impact of social media, celebrities have major influence on their fans. Earlier this week, Major League Baseball (MLB) cancelled the first two series of the year, and it felt like an earth-shattering moment in the sport’s history. The players were extremely vocal and used their social media platforms after the failed negotiations on March 1, 2022, and the announcement of the first work stoppage in over 25 years.

The sport’s own product, the players, are shaping the perception on Commissioner Manfred and the league. The players took their opinions to social media to spread awareness to the difficult situation they have found themselves in. Their goal in doing so is not just to voice their own opinions, but to also portray the league as the “villains” and to get the fans on their side. In an effort to combat the “greedy millionaire” narrative that players have been known to receive, they have gone to social media to protect their image and gain sympathy from the public. For instance, Mets star pitcher Max Scherzer stated, “It’s not about Andrew (referring to Andrew Miller) and I, it’s us as free agents looking backwards and realizing we need to allocate more resources to (young players).”[1] The goal of this? Players are using their platforms to portray their empathy for young athletes within their sport and attempt to show fans they are out to help the people next to them.

Along with protecting their image and position, the players have used social media to attack Commissioner Manfred. Many players tweeted their displeasure and vehement dislike of Commissioner Manfred after a video of him laughing at the press conference where he announced the cancellation of games, as well as a photo taken out of context of Manfred practicing his golf swing during the final hours of the negotiation.[2] It is a calculated move by the players to get the fans fully behind them and attempt to put pressure on the league to make concessions.

Players are even using social media to market themselves. Bryce Harper posted on his Instagram story photoshopped pictures of himself in a uniform for the Yomiuri Giants of Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan. Harper even took it upon himself to tag the team in the caption to ensure his talents and abilities will be noticed, even if it is in a league overseas. Further, Harper referred to his agent in the post practically begging for the team to get his agent to call and set up a deal. This shows the tremendous impact social media can have. It also aids the players in marketing. If the negotiations between the Players Association and MLB continue, the talented players we love to watch will go somewhere where they can play and be appreciated.

The National Hockey League (NHL) recently had to amend its collective bargaining agreement in 2020. Given the fact that was the height of the pandemic, it would have made more sense for their negotiations to be even rockier than MLB’s, but they were not. They faced the challenge of creating a format for a pandemic riddled season, and coming to terms on a new CBA, arguably the greatest labor challenge in major sports. They may have been under more constrained pressures due to a shortage in revenue compared to the other three major sports leagues, but nonetheless they were able to come to terms in the most difficult time our country has faced in a long time. Comparing the NHL and MLB in their CBA negotiations shows how fractured the relationship between management and players is in baseball. It is possible that due to baseball’s revenue growth since the past CBA implementation MLB has more leeway to leave money on the table and stay firm in its positions. The NHL did not have nearly as many outspoken players going to social media to voice their opinions and was able to strike a deal with much more ease. In all, the relationship between management and players in baseball appears to be shattered.

Negotiations of this magnitude have become a PR battle and one of controlling the narrative. There are constantly emerging false reports and high emotion statements that are publicly displayed on social media and sports talk shows. Although this is an attempt to clear up the details of the negotiation, it is becoming increasingly challenging for the public to know what is based in fact and what is based on opinion. For instance, the MLB took a “transparent PR tactic” of saying it was nearing a deal with the union. The players, on the other hand, used social media to counter that the MLB has falsely pumped to the media that there was momentum towards a deal and it is the players that are constantly changing. Anything said or done by the league can be fact checked at the click of a button, making it easy for anyone to combat what is said in a press-conference and verify how honest the league or the Player’s Association is being.[3] The goal is the same on both sides, but the proposed solutions are far apart.

Baseball’s history has been riddled with labor disputes, the difference here being this one is very public. The first two series of the season have already been canceled, and the MLB has remained firm in insisting there will be four weeks of spring training before the season begins. This means that every additional week that the lockout drags on, six games will be lost. With the beginning excitement dissolving, this messy labor battle will drain fans of any excitement they might have about watching their favorite sport.

The players are making their displeasure known and changing the way negotiations in professional sports will be held forever. This is one of the very first times a league has had to deal with this much slander and push-back on proposals (at least in the public eye) and will forever change the way these types of negotiations are handled.

Beyond the labor dispute, the league is still facing the issues it already was before the lockout, including players violating unwritten rules dampening the joy of the game, cheating scandals, stripping 42 minor league teams of their big-league affiliations, a stripped down 60-game regular season in 2020, a former team employee just being convicted of providing drugs to players leading to a fatal overdose, and more.  The lockout further accentuates the challenges MLB faces in attracting  fans right now. This would have been the first time since 2019 that every team in the league would be allowed to have a full stadium for Opening Day – a welcome return to a ritual of normalcy, steeped in tradition.. Instead,  fans will be viewing vying social media posts from owners and players in a power struggle over money, rather than the growth and popularity of the game that fans have loved for generations.


[1] https://theathletic.com/3158084/2022/03/01/ghiroli-mlb-players-take-advantage-of-social-media-to-shift-perception-around-the-lockout/?redirected=1

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

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Former college baseball player, focusing my legal studies on the intersection of sport, law, and business.

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