It doesn’t take a genius to say that lockouts are bad for any of the major leagues. Work stoppages are sometimes necessary, but they generally create problems with sponsors, TV partners, and fans. There are some leagues where we can expect a work stoppage. The NFL has so many issues it has to face that it’s probably a good bet that 2022 will be lockout city. The NBA seems to be bucking the trend making progress. MLB may be tipping the opposite way from the NBA.
The major reason this is a problem — other than the obvious reasons listed above — is that MLB popularity is on somewhat of an upswing. The Cubs v. Indians World Series beat the NFL in ratings. Young stars like Kris Bryant, Francisco Lindor, and Mookie Betts are adding to the star power of Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and Clayton Kershaw. Major market teams are returning to prominence. The league is making changes to speed up the game.
Lockout talk — even if it’s just preliminary lockout talk — is always a bad sign. It leads to negotiation in the media. Players and owners start to resent each other. New sponsors don’t want to sign up for a partnership get queasy because the last thing they want is something to blow up in their face. Even the brief discussion of lockout talk takes precedent over everything else.
MLB made this mistake before and it took a steroid-era home run record chase to bring back the game. It’s just not possible for the MLB to expect it won’t be hurt by a lockout — especially with all the other entertainment and new sport options like eSports making a push.
Again, there are times when a work stoppage makes sense, but good luck telling fans and sponsors that. Good luck explaining to TNT and FOX that they have to fill programming from April to October. Good luck regaining momentum after a few hundred ‘millionaires v. billionaires’ thought pieces. MLB and the MLBPA need to get out in front of this lockout talk before it affects their business.