SBJ/February 6 - 12, 2006/Labor Agents

MLB expects less drama in next labor deal

Major League Baseball will pursue far less reaching economic reforms in its next labor deal compared to prior negotiations with the MLB Players Association, Commissioner Bud Selig said last week.

MLB gained extensive increases to revenue sharing and luxury tax provisions in its 2002 labor deal, set to expire after next season, as it sought to correct a perceived problem with competitive balance. Baseball executives then negotiated two dramatic revisions last year to the drug-testing program under the threat of congressional intervention.

Commissioner Bud Selig, shown in an earlier news conference,
credits labor peace for the league’s success of late.
Selig plans to conduct the next set of labor talks, which are expected to begin in earnest this spring, with far less drama and public scrutiny.

“We’re not going to be asking for as much as we have in the past,” said Selig, who appeared at New York’s Columbia University last week with NBA Commissioner David Stern for a taping of “CEO Exchange,” a TV series set to air this spring on PBS. “Parity right now is very good.”

MLB has crowned six different world champions in the last six years. Every other major league has had repeat winners during that time.

Selig heretofore has said virtually nothing about the next set of labor talks, but his diminished labor agenda isn’t surprising. After spending nearly all of 1999-2002 talking openly about baseball’s troubled economic state, the sport is now on an unprecedented fiscal rocket ride.

Industry revenue is approaching $5 billion a year, global interest in the game is mushrooming, and Selig now projects that MLB attendance in 2006 will surpass 77 million and perhaps reach 78 million, which would top last year’s all-time record of 74.9 million by about 3 percent.

“Labor peace is really the No. 1 reason for our success of late,” Selig said. “When the [fan] focus is on the field, we’re fine. It’s when the focus is off the field where we get into trouble.”

That said, pertinent issues remain on both sides and within each camp. Several big-market clubs, most notably the juggernaut New York Yankees, remain firmly unconvinced that the revenue-sharing system is working, as witnessed by the annual struggles of regular recipients such as Kansas City, Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh, and that the system rewards failure instead of promoting meaningful competitive improvement.

Selig, however, would like to increase MLB revenue sharing beyond its current 34 percent of locally generated revenue. And it has not gone unnoticed in many corners of the game that the percentage of revenue devoted to player payrolls, even amid this winter’s free agent spending frenzy on pitching, has fallen from 67 percent to about 50 percent during the life of the current labor deal.

“We’re a long way away from making decisions on all of this yet,” Selig said, “but I’m very hopeful this time around.”

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