Amidst the backdrop of significant changes in regional sports networks, which are still the backbone of MLB broadcasting revenues, there’s a new national deal in place for the league, which is both a raise and also not a raise.
Likely a reflection of the shift in national attentions – but in recognition that sports are still about as good as it gets for live content – ESPN’s new deal with Major League Baseball will see a reduction in total games broadcast, but at an improved per-game rate. SBJ reports that the annual value of the deal is $550 million from 2022 through 2028, and will keep Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN (as well as a handful of marquee events), but will drop the weeknight games. Those games are being shopped elsewhere by MLB for national distribution.
Perhaps most importantly, the deal includes exclusive rights to ESPN for any added Wild Card rounds in an expanded playoff format after this year – which means MLB now has a strong incentive to expand the postseason in the new CBA. The players, in turn, pick up some leverage in those negotiations.
Speaking of leverage in the CBA talks:
https://t.co/DcJAKqoQuw The MLBPA officially filed its grievance that MLB did not act in good faith last yr to play as many games as possible. MLB filed a counter-grievance. $500M could be at stake so how can it not impact CBA negotiations.
— Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) May 13, 2021
If you recall last summer’s ugliness, you will remember the allegations that MLB’s owners did not negotiate in good faith to try to have a longer season, which cost the players significant salary under the March Agreement (which prorated their pay last year). That is to say, we always knew this grievance was coming, so the official filing is not a surprise, nor is the request for $500 million in payments to players.
While it is, no doubt, its own case … let’s be real. It’s mostly just part of the ongoing/upcoming CBA negotiations. It’s highly unlikely that the grievance would be resolved – by decision or settlement – without some direct impact on the next CBA. It’s just gonna be folded in somehow, and the players were resolute last year in preserving it as leverage for precisely this moment. I have no problem with it. I just don’t want to see more ugliness.
I also don’t want to see what I suspect we will see: each side pushing the grievance process to the 11th hour so as to extract as much leverage on their side as possible. If you think you are presenting a great case and things are looking bad for the other side, then you’re suddenly in a much better position to extract more value in the negotiations. But because these grievances processes are notoriously slow (eh hem), it’s debatable whether even a fast-tracked process could be completed before December 1, when the current CBA expires.