By Peter Brennan
Major League Baseball is still working out the details about its 2020 season.
And it’s unclear whether there will even be one in 2020.
The financial pulls of the players and the owners seem way too set in stone for a compromise that saves this season.
And let’s be honest.
More and more, the sports calendar year has been crowding America’s Pastime into a smaller and smaller space in recent years.
Baseball used to own a the summer months.
But for the next two years, the threat of the NBA will grow even more real.
Should baseball reach an agreement to play this season, it will enjoy an exclusivity window of only three weeks in early July, as the NBA projects its games will resume in late July.
If both leagues avoid shutdowns caused by a rash of coronavirus cases, baseball will find itself head-to-head with hoops into its playoffs, as Game 7 of the NBA Finals is tentatively scheduled for Oct. 12.
Next season will be no better: The NBA plans a Dec. 1 tipoff of the 2020-21 season, pushing its regular season into May, the Finals into July, the draft after that. That’s a full season of moving more of its inventory head-to-head with baseball, rather than football. And the NBA could very well like the results.
Particularly with the sport already taking a significant drop at the box office, with attendance drops of 4% in 2018 and an additional 1.6% in 2019. Throw in what would likely be an almost fan-free 2020 season, with health and economic concerns lingering into 2021, and a sport that still relies on attendance for at least 40% of its revenues will be scrambling to stanch further losses.
MLB remains a $10 billion industry, and its demise is far from imminent, particularly with local TV contracts such as the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 25-year deal, signed in January 2013, that’s valued at $8.35 billion. Equity stakes in networks ensure many franchises get an even bigger piece of their own pie than traditional TV deals.
But as cord-cutting increases, and the gold rush of deals signed last decade begin to sunset, franchises may feel immediate and long-term effects. This winter, assuming baseball manages to hammer out a deal and play a 2020 season, the sport’s current problems – lack of recognition for its biggest stars, a slow game, a labor war that will brew through 2021 – and its extended ones may collide.
Consider that by the time Opening Day 2021 comes around, several franchises may have played as few as 50 games since September 2019. In that same span, NBA teams will have played more than 130 games.