MLS Could Make Huge Gains With Prolonged MLB Lockout

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It’s nearing spring, and ordinarily, that means two professional sports leagues would be primed for a return in the United States, but things are a tad bit different here in 2022.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, there is an ongoing labor dispute in American professional sports.

While Major League Soccer kicked off its 27th season last weekend with the first round of matches, Charlotte FC’s overall debut vs. DC United at Audi Field in Washington being just one of them, Saturday was also slated to have been the first full afternoon of spring training games in Major League Baseball.

Note the key word of “was” in that last sentence.

MLB Lockout Delays Spring Training and Regular Season

Since 12:01 am ET on Dec. 2, MLB has been at a complete standstill from a business standpoint, thanks to the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement between MLB and the MLBPA.

As a result of the expired CBA, the 30 MLB owners unanimously voted to lock the 1,200 members of the players union out that December night, and baseball has been in this holding pattern for 90 days, as of Tuesday.

It took slightly more than six weeks after the impasse was reached for the two sides to even so much as reopen the labor talks.

During the early part of these negotiations, meetings were few and far between, and when a meeting did happen to occur, it didn’t last long.

A Feb. 17 meeting between MLB and the MLBPA lasted just 15 minutes before it was adjourned– marking the second-shortest meeting between the two sides thus far, as a Dec. 1 meeting conducted just before the lockout officially began lasted only seven minutes prior to the CBA discussions being tabled indefinitely.

Previously, MLB announced that at the bare minimum, the first week of spring training games would be cancelled amid the current labor strife– and a subsequent announcement by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred revealed that games in preseason would begin no sooner than March 8.

Now, an on-time, on-schedule start to the regular season on March 31 is no longer possible

MLB Regular Season Delayed

Although representatives from both MLB and the MLBPA met daily prior to March 1, reports from sources close to the discussions indicated that the talks still only advanced at a piecemeal fashion prior to a marathon session on Feb. 28.

Labor Talks in MLB Still at Glacial Pace Despite Daily Meetings in Florida

Following a Feb. 23 meeting in Jupiter, FL, the third day of talks in a row produced the news that MLB would truncate the 2022 season if no collective bargaining agreement was completed by the end of the day on Feb. 28– two days after the MLS season began.

Additionally, if no CBA was reached between MLB and the MLBPA by Monday, any games missed would be canceled outright, as opposed to postponed, and would therefore not be rescheduled, among other possibilities.

The talks extended to Tuesday, the ninth day in a row and a 5 pm ET deadline was imposed to reach a deal– but the deadline came and went, and regular season games are off of the schedule.

The Fans Might Not Come Back

If fan involvement or engagement take a hit due to this latest impasse, here’s another hard truth that baseball has to prepare itself for:

There’s no guarantee that fans that MLB loses due to this ongoing spat come back once this lockout is settled, regardless of when it’s settled, be it later on this spring, at some point this summer (in the event of a lengthy impasse similar to the infighting between the two sides before the COVID-shortened 2020 season) or, in the absolute worst-case scenario, at some point in early 2023 in case of a canceled season this year.

Decline in Baseball’s Popularity After 1994-95 MLB Strike a Warning Sign for Sport After Prolonged 2021-22 Lockout?

When Major League Baseball had to endure a players’ strike in 1994 and 1995, which resulted in the cancellation of the World Series for the first time in 90 years, it took several years for the popularity of the big leagues to rebound, so it’s within the realm of possibility that the same could happen here if the season is significantly delayed, if not cancelled outright.

So, What Could This Mean For MLS?

First off, MLS is, as far as outdoor professional sports are concerned, MLB’s chief competitor for the majority of the spring-to-fall season that the former league employs, and if the lockout is settled in time to hold an MLB season of reasonable length, the MLS season will occur almost concurrently with the action on the diamond.

This year, the final day of regular season games in MLB will be scheduled for Oct. 2– and one week later, Decision Day in MLS will take place.

No Baseball? More Fans in the Stands in MLS and More Revenue for Clubs

If the lockout in MLB bleeds deep into the spring and perhaps into the summer, MLS will run mostly unopposed by other team-competitive sports leagues each weekend, leading to a larger potential audience in terms of physical attendance.

Secondly, as of the 2022 MLS season, 11 MLB cities also have MLS clubs, with both the New York City and Los Angeles areas having two clubs from Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer.

Therefore, it stands to reason that any regular season games missed in MLB could equal positive financial news for MLS and its clubs in home markets, as Major League Baseball’s clubs will assuredly be duty-bound to refund any fans who bought tickets to ballgames that could potentially be missed by the lockout.

MLB’s teams have already guaranteed refunds to fans who purchased tickets to games that would have been played during the cancelled first week of spring training.

With money back into the pockets and wallets of sports fans in MLB/MLS cities this spring in the event of an extended MLB lockout, could jilted baseball fans exchange a cancelled first pitch at the ballpark for action on the pitch inside the match grounds?

Lack of MLB Equals Better TV Ratings in MLS

Finally, a prolonged MLB lockout could yield to growth in the ratings department for MLS, and it could be quite the boon to the league in 2022, especially coming off of a 2021 season where ratings for nationally-televised matches increased across the board.

This ratings growth for MLS telecasts was highlighted by FOX Sports airing an MLS Cup Playoffs Conference Semifinal on Thanksgiving Day inside the United States last November.

Figures indicated that the Portland Timbers’ 1-0 triumph over the Colorado Rapids on Nov. 25, a game immediately following the NFL’s Thanksgiving Classic between the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions delivered an audience of 1.85 million viewers, making it the most-watched MLS game on broadcast television in over 17 years.

With a prolonged MLB lockout, MLS matches on network television could increase even further, which creates even more of a bonus considering that a new TV deal looms for the league.

Final Thoughts

Two years ago, at a roundtable discussion ahead of the landmark 25th anniversary season of Major League Soccer, Larry Berg, owner of LAFC, believed that MLS could overtake MLB in popularity by the time MLS hits its 35th anniversary season in 2030.

While Major League Baseball continues to shoot itself in the foot, the time has come for Major League Soccer to capitalize on a potentially-jilted audience of fans if the lockout in the former league remains unsettled into the spring.

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Drew Zuhosky has been writing about MMA since the spring of 2018. A graduate of Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, Drew enjoys a good game and an even better fight. When he's not writing, you can find him playing video games and listening to music.