Written on behalf of Feigenbaum Consulting
Two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, most major league sports have been able to recover from partially lost seasons in 2020, with the NHL, NBA, and NFL all pushing through despite some COVID-related setbacks. Unfortunately for fans of Major League Baseball, the 2022 season seems to be in jeopardy with the planned start date for spring training having come and gone this week. The lockout, which came as a result of the most recent collective agreement between players and the owners expiring on December 1, is the first work stoppage the league has experienced since 1995. Missed playing time has a serious impact on players, who stand to lose income as a result. In today’s blog, we want to update readers on what has happened since we last blogged about the lockout and look at how we got here, what’s happened so far, and what we might expect as pressure mounts on both sides to reach a quick resolution.
Why are baseball players locked out?
As many people know, the relationship between players in MLB and the owners is governed by a collective agreement (CBA). A CBA covers virtually every aspect of the relationship, including how much players can earn, how often they work, how many games they play, and more. Much like any other unionized job, the parties have to negotiate new terms when a CBA expires. Unlike a strike, a lockout is a work stoppage in which the owners (in this case the owners of MLB teams) lock employees out of the workplace. For those involved in MLB, the lockout does not only mean that players can’t return to the game, it also means that teams cannot pursue players through the free agency process. The lockout essentially freezes all aspects of the game.
The owners unanimously agreed to lock out players shortly after the CBA expired. A story published by CBS states that it was likely done because the owners did not want to allow offseason activities to start without a contract in place. Locking out players also prevents the players from going on strike, giving the ownership group more control over the stoppage. Essentially, the MLB lockout is not like those you’d see in any other workplace and was put in place as an attempt to speed up the CBA negotiation process and provide owners with more leverage in those discussions. With that said, more than two months have passed, and there is no end in sight. With the regular season scheduled to start in just a couple of months, fans are right to be concerned that games could be lost.
What is the situation with the lockout at this time?
The lockout made headlines again last week after the planned start of spring training came and went without an agreement in place. As winter inches closer to a close, more critical dates loom. Exhibition games are scheduled to begin on February 26, and opening day is planned for March 31. That seems far off, but as ESPN reports, 21-28 days of training and COVID-19 protocols are required before games can play. That means things have to be resolved by early March at the latest.
There is a wide range of issues that the two sides have to come to an agreement on before a new contract is put in place. These include luxury-tax thresholds, which allow teams to spend above the cap by paying a tax. There are also gaps between the parties on how revenue-sharing should work and how service time is calculated for players who are not called up from the minor leagues, preventing them from becoming free agents and signing larger contracts. Talks between the parties have not been happening as regularly as some might expect. They were scheduled to resume last Thursday after more than a week without talks. In fact, the two sides have only met five times since the lockout began according to USA Today.
Could the regular season be delayed?
It’s in the best interests of all involved to reach a quick resolution, but as more time passes, the likelihood of missed games looks more and more like a sure thing. The target date for ensuring that the season starts on time seems to be February 28, which as we mentioned earlier, would give players enough time to go through training and COVID-19 protocols. A delay of just a few days might allow the season to begin, albeit with some changes, such as expanded rosters or limits on how many pitches a player can throw, both of which would ease the strain on players who have not been able to practice at team facilities. Spring training is already late to start, and those hoping to catch their favourite teams play in the American south are likely to find themselves without any baseball to watch, at least for the time being.
Those old enough to remember the 1994-95 lockout will recall the significant impact the lost season had on the sport, which some say has yet to recover from the damage it caused. As fans of baseball and a firm offering cross-border tax services to athletes, we certainly hope that the season starts as planned before April 1.
Feigenbaum Law provides financial advice and strategy to athletes and entertainers
The team at Feigenbaum Law offers a wide range of services to clients in both sports and entertainment. Some of the areas in which we help clients include those related to residency, immigration, and visas. We also offer reviews of contracts, sponsorship agreements, employment contracts and publication deals for players, agents, managers and coaches. Additionally, our own Mark Feigenbaum has extensive history assisting clients in both the United States and Canada with sound tax advice. His background puts him in a unique position to help clients who work and live on both sides of the Canada/US border. Agents and coaches can feel confident in referring their clients to us with confidence. We can be reached by phone at 877-275-4792 or by email in order to schedule an initial consultation.