Politics and sports seldom collide, unless, of course, you’re talking about the steroid scandal, but the ongoing U.S. Presidential Election could negatively affect MLB and other professional sports in 2021.
I won’t get into a political debate here, as it doesn’t matter who either of us voted for, but President Trump and what looks to be President-Elect Joe Biden have very different views on how to handle the COVID-19 pandemic. Make no mistake, the safety of lives – including those of the fans, players, umpires, and so on, greatly outweighs having fans in the seats, or even having a baseball season for that matter. Having clarified that, here’s what’s at issue.
Opposing Views on COVID-19 During the Presidential Election
During the campaign and ensuing Presidential election, both candidates espoused varying philosophies on how best to handle the pandemic. All politicians lie, let’s just agree on that, but if you take Trump at his word, a vaccine is coming soon.
In the last Presidential debate, Trump said a vaccine would be available within three to four weeks, but the likelihood is that it wouldn’t be made widely available to everyone until likely mid-April to late-May- well after the season is supposed to get underway.
At odds, is how to best handle the pandemic. Biden believes shutting down the country again will help, whereas Trump insists that the key to keeping the economy strong is to let businesses reopen (which would include sporting events). Major news sources all agree on one thing: Most Americans trust Biden with handling the pandemic more than they do Trump, which was a point that Biden drove home time and time again during the Presidential election process.
For MLB, fully reopening would mean fans in the seats for 2021, moreover, it would mean seeing players on the field. As you saw, some fans were allowed to attend the NLCS (in Arlington, TX) and the World Series (also in Arlington), though no statistics have been released about any potential spread of the virus among those who attended the games.
Although reports vary, MLB reported a loss of somewhere between $4B and $8.3B for last season, and another full shutdown of the country would make those numbers even worse. Even if teams couldn’t play with full capacity stadiums, allowing attendance between 25% and 30% would help ease the losses, especially if concessions were allowed to be sold. Those percentages would also still allow for social distancing. Certainly, COVID screening (temperature checks and screening questions) would be a must, as would wearing a mask.
The Presidential Election and MLB’s Next CBA
With the possibility – rather likeliness – of a strike or lockout in 2022, cutting MLB’s losses in 2021 would give the MLBPA (players union) more bargaining power for the next Collective Bargaining Agreement (set for next winter), while not further hindering baseball’s falling popularity.
Depending on the official outcome of the Presidential election – which we may not know for months, due to impending lawsuits and recounts – MLB and other professional sports are almost forced to remain in a state of flux.
The return of baseball – even in fanless ballparks – gave people some sense of normalcy during the national shelter in place order. If the Presidential election winds up forcing another nationwide lockdown, people will end up climbing the walls again next year, looking for something to do as they’re forced to shelter in place again.
MLB May Lose Key Players to Japan
Japan has had excellent luck in controlling the virus while allowing fans to attend games. This has become a point so important, that top-tier free agent, Trevor Bauer, is considering playing for Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) next season.
Granted, he’s disgusted with Rob Manfred and MLB as a whole, but the lack of fans is likely also playing a role in his thought process as well. The question here should be, what is Japan doing that the United States isn’t?
Ballparks with fans will draw more revenue, hence the ability to pay higher wages to players – something MLB may have to shy away from considering their 2020 losses and further potential losses in 2021.
The Presidential Election and MLB Free Agency
This winter is going to be interesting, to say the least. Trading players cost the teams next to nothing (unless you inherit the contracts of Gerrit Cole, Mookie Betts, or someone in that class). Conversely, signing free agents is going to cost big bucks, especially if they’re seeking someone like Trevor Bauer, JT Realmuto, or George Springer.
Considering individual team revenue losses for 2020, it’s likely that many teams may look for buy-low free agents, rather than to shop the top-tier group. For the fans, baseball is entertainment; for the owners, it’s a business, and businesses hate to lose money.
It’s hard to believe that the Presidential election could affect the sport, but that looks to be the case.
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