Negotiations appear hopeless and what optimism existed is all but gone. Can the upcoming MLB Draft turn things around?
On March 12 the COVID-19 pandemic got real as essentially all major sports were shut down, beginning the early stages of what wound up becoming perhaps the largest country-wide shut down ever. However, even then it seemed that somehow… some way… MLB would eventually return.
This is a sport that made it through World War 1 with nothing more than a shortened 1918 season, followed by business as usual throughout the Second World War. And as we all remember during the 2001 season, following the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil, the sport banded together after just a short six-day pause. Time and time again, throughout history, no matter how bad things got MLB always found a way to persevere.
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This time, though — following a record season in total revenues ($10.7 billion for the 2019 season) and just a few years removed from the MLBAM selloff that netted each team roughly $50 million in profits — the sport just can’t seem to pull together.
Forget an Independence Day opening day, which about a month ago — despite even then no real headway among the league and players — seemed to be an inevitable return date. At this point we may be lucky if there’s even a season in 2020… and I don’t have to tell you just how costly that would be (both financially and in terms of public relations).
However, perhaps there’s hope on the horizon. This coming Wednesday and Thursday (June 10-11) the 2020 MLB Draft will take place, and even though it has been heavily altered there’s a feeling that maybe… just maybe… it can remind people why the game is so important (even if the draft comes chalked full of its own unresolved issues).
This year’s MLB draft will be set up similar to the NFL’s a few months ago (which featured a strong viewing of 15.6 million), airing remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic. Although the form in which the event will be broadcasted is the least of the changes in effect.
Only an eighth of its normal size, the two-day 2020 MLB Draft will only feature five rounds, with Day 1 covering the first round and Day 2 the last four rounds. All-in-all, only 160 players will be drafted this year, and a combination of deferrals and capped bonuses for undrafted players really make it difficult to get excited for such a watered-down product… but at this point MLB is desperate.
It wouldn’t be realistic to expect a turnout similar to the NFL’s; even under normal circumstances the MLB Draft lags football by millions of views. But if not a huge surge in eyeballs, MLB better hope something positive comes from this week’s event, for this is really all the league has to give at the moment (other than more bickering with the Players Union).
The latest updates on MLB’s and the Players Union’s battle certainly doesn’t offer much confidence right now that the two sides alone can somehow come to an understanding, at least not in the time required to save the season. The sport is in desperate need of a breakthrough… and fast.
Commonly, the MLB Draft is watched predominantly by the hardcore baseball fan interested in witnessing the potential future talent of his or her favorite organization, as unlike other major sports’ drafts, baseball’s is much more of a long-term appreciation where draftees may not debut at the highest level for sometimes several years. For many of us, it’s just another beloved and unique component that helps shape the sport. But right now that tiny oddity is in serious danger if things don’t start turning around for MLB.
The draft has never been a prime event for baseball, at least not like it is for other major sports. But thus far, it’s all the sport has at this point. If selecting the next generation of stars and changing teenager’s lives forever doesn’t light some kind of spark to begin a healthy dialogue between the game’s key decision makers, then nothing will. Hopefully this week’s draft is MLB’s turning-point, because if it’s not… I’m afraid the 2020 season is doomed.