It feels like a distant memory — probably thanks to the fact that the World Series has been amazing through five games — that tensions between MLB and the MLBPA were at an incredibly high point just months ago. Like every aspect of the 2020 MLB season, the coronavirus pandemic took a toll on season scheduling, player salaries and much more as the league attempted to mitigate the losses that would come as a result of the loss of ticket revenue, among other sources of income.
Those tensions are something that may pick up again as the 2020 World Series comes to an end and the reality of planning another difficult season sets in. Commissioner Rob Manfred acknowledged these potential issues in an interview with Barry M. Bloom of Sportico on Monday.
“We are going to be at historic high levels of debt,” Manfred said. “And it’s going to be difficult for the industry to weather another year where we don’t have fans in the ballpark and have other limitations on how much we can’t play and how we can play."
Though fans have been in attendance throughout the LCS and World Series in a limited capacity, the unpredictability of the virus makes it impossible to know what the status of the country will be by the time spring rolls around in 2021. Manfred had previously expressed this sense of pessimism, telling Jared Diamond of The Wall Street Journal it would be "devastating" for the 2021 season to be played without any fans.
Manfred used the same word to describe the economic losses that MLB suffered in 2020 — $2.8 to $3 billion in operational losses and a current debt of $8.3 billion to various lenders — calling them "devastating for the industry" and noting that employee layoffs and other unprecedented decisions are some of the difficult consequences that the 30 teams have had to deal with.
Manfred also praised the MLBPA and the league's players for cooperating throughout the various stages of the season, though he knows the union and the owners will have to come to an agreement on more terms before plunging into another volatile campaign.
“It’s absolutely certain, I know, that we’re going to have to have conversations with the MLBPA about what 2021 is going to look like,” he said. “It’s difficult to foresee a situation right now where everything’s just normal. And obviously, if it’s not normal we’re going to have to have conversations about it.
“I think the one thing we’ve learned is that COVID is a really unpredictable virus. We don’t know what’s next. But at this point it’s just impossible to speculate what next year’s going to look like. We’ll just have to get closer and then we’ll make the best decisions we can.”
As Bloom notes, the decision-making and agreeable nature between the two groups will need to be established early and continue up to the expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement, which is just over a year away on December 1, 2021.