Are commissioner Rob Manfred and MLB really preparing a major push for a salary cap, a revival of the dispute that created the sport’s last massive work stoppage in 1994-95? Analyzing what’s going on behind the scenes with MLB’s economic reform committee might prompt more questions than answers, but let’s try.
What’s going on right now?
Probably the most difficult part of commissioner Rob Manfred’s job is managing MLB’s 30 control people, the owners. By creating an economic reform committee, the commissioner is, at the least, demonstrating to owners that he’s hearing their concerns. Clearly, some are unhappy. Bob Nutting of the Pirates told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that although he voted for the most recent collective bargaining agreement, he basically didn’t want to, and wants major change.
Off the top then, the committee serves a purpose: mollifying, soothing and placating owners. Manfred has to listen to them, not only to keep the peace, but one imagines as well, to keep support for his leadership. His contract runs through 2024, and he’s expected to seek an extension.
Manfred this month said the new committee is geared toward two areas: the future of television distribution and revenue disparity. The former issue is significant and real. The Bally regional sports networks appear headed for bankruptcy, and Warner Bros. Discovery wants out of the business. MLB owners have to figure out a way to end blackouts and create a new model so fans can access games as they please, while also retaining or increasing the revenue that previously came from regional sports networks.
But there are questions as to whether the TV topic is an entree, a narrative lever, to also get to something else. The committee is not exclusively dedicated to the RSNs, nor is it named, say, the “future of streaming” committee.
The second component of the committee’s work, per Manfred’s explanation, is revenue disparity among teams. That concern suggests to Tony Clark, head of the Major League Baseball Players Association, the committee’s purpose is to create a salary cap, or something that similarly reduces player salaries.