MLB and the MLBPAtoday announced a deal that will implement several changes to the game starting this season, but the "most important" aspect of the deal is the provision that the two sides "will begin discussing labor issues imminently," according to Jeff Passan of ESPN.com. That means talks would begin "far earlier than they typically would with a CBA that doesn't expire" until December '21. Sources said that those discussions "will center on the game's most fundamental economic tenets -- not only free agency but other macro issues with deep consequences." Negotiations over distribution of revenue "could be the most difficult gap to bridge, with teams clearly paring back spending on aging players while players chafe at the notion that those 30 and older are no longer worthy of the deals they received in the past." While a compromise "could be reached in distributing more money to the younger players whom the current system underpays, the complications of doing so warrant a long runway for discussions." Other subjects to be discussed include the "manipulation of service time that keeps the best prospects in the minor leagues to begin a season, the luxury-tax threshold that some believe discourages spending, and the gathering of biometric data that has become commonplace among major league teams" (ESPN.com, 3/13). NBCSPORTS.com's Craig Calcaterra notes the fact the MLBPA is "willing to agree to these talks strongly suggests that its leadership believes that the league will, in fact, engage on pocketbook matters in a meaningful way" (NBCSPORTS.com, 3/14).
TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGIN': USA TODAY's Bob Nightengale writes as part of the MLB-MLBPA deal, committees "will be appointed by the Commissioner's office and the union to formally discuss the game's economic concerns." They will "study ways to make the free-agent market more active" and also "discuss eliminating the incentive for teams from purposely losing to gain top draft picks." Among the "several major rule changes" are that pitchers will be "required to face a minimum of three batters in a game" beginning in '20. There will also be a "single July 31 trade deadline" starting this season, as well as an "All-Star election day starting this summer where fans can determine the starting players in the All-Star Game with 24-hour voting." Other rule changes include the Home Run Derby now paying $1M to the winning player and commercial breaks during innings being "shortened by 20 seconds to 2 minutes" (USATODAY.com, 3/14).
WORK TO BE DONE: On Long Island, Tim Healey notes high-ranking MLBPA officials, including Exec Dir Tony Clark, met with Mets players yesterday during their Spring Training tour and discovered "mounting frustration about what the players perceive as a system being manipulated increasingly out of their favor." A potential work stoppage "is a ways away," but it remains "something players are talking about." Mets LF and player rep Michael Conforto said, "Nobody wants that. MLB doesn't want that, and we don't want that either. Nobody wants baseball to stop. But no matter what happens, we (the players) are going to stick together." Healey notes Conforto "inherited the job" of the team's union rep when P Matt Harvey was traded last season. Harvey suggested to then-Mets P Jerry Blevins -- who is "heavily involved" with the union -- that Conforto "take his spot, thus keeping it in the Scott Boras family." Conforto this spring has made an effort "to familiarize himself with the MLBPA goings-on, including a recent dinner with union bosses and players who train near" the Mets' Spring Training facility (NEWSDAY, 3/14).
MLS is not expected to make a final decision on its latest expansion club during a league meeting next month, but the Sacramento group bidding for a team is "treating the moment as its final audition," according to Tony Bizjak of the SACRAMENTO BEE. L.A. businessman Matt Alvarez, who is part of the prospective ownership group along with Penguins co-Owner Ron Burkle, said the "clock is ticking" on Sacramento's bid. Alvarez and Burkle "represent the key new element to Sacramento's bid." USL club Sacramento Republic officials and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg "recruited the pair two months ago after MLS officials indicated the local effort needed better financial backing." Alvarez said that he and Burkle joined the effort because they have been "looking for a joint sport venture and view Sacramento as a city that has grown substantially." He and Burkle "signed an agreement to take control" of Sacramento Republic and build a new $300M stadium, "contingent on the MLS granting the city a franchise." The new ownership group, which will include current Republic FC Chair & CEO Kevin Nagle and "possibly other Sacramento investors, would pay MLS a franchise fee" of at least $150M. Alvarez said that the Sacramento effort has been in "almost daily contact with MLS officials in recent weeks," and he believes that it has "done everything the league has asked" (SACRAMENTO BEE, 3/14).
ONE DOOR OPENS...: In Indianapolis, Matthew Glenesk noted USL club Indy Eleven's "hope of being included" in MLS expansion "appears to have been dealt a blow." MLS Commissioner Don Garber on Tuesday said that St. Louis and Sacramento are the "two markets atop the league's expansion wish list." After that, Garber said that Charlotte, Las Vegas and Phoenix are "options for further expansion." This comes after Indy Eleven Owner Ersal Ozdemir proposed a project that would include a $150M stadium and $400M in "restaurants, stores, offices and apartments" in Indianapolis. However, the requirements for MLS expansion appear to have "thrown a wrench in the plans" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 3/13).
A new fitness league is aiming to modernize the physique and bodybuilding industry, with the goal of taking the competition and its participants more into the mainstream. The league, which will be called the World Physique Championship, is launching in June with a new competition circuit of events across the world. The first event will take place in Miami, with plans for additional events in N.Y. and L.A. Darren Owen, who previously founded and owned Canadian MMA company Aggression Fighting Championship and has promoted fighting events across the globe, is behind the league and will serve as CEO. It has other private investors as well, Owen said. “There is so much potential in the physique industry to take these competitions more into the mainstream, and by giving competitors a better experience and a chance to win prize money, we think there is a real opportunity.” He pointed to the rise of popularity of bodybuilding on platforms like Instagram, where he said there are hundreds of competitive bodybuilders with over 1 million followers. “People are flocking to Instagram to follow these physique fitness professionals -- the time is right to take these steps to modernize the competition around it,” he said.
OPEN TO BOTH MEN AND WOMEN: The events will have competitions for both men and women in a variety of categories like bodybuilding and classic physique. Owen said that anyone could register, and prize payouts will scale by number of entrees. The majority of the entry fee will go to the prize money. Owen said that the organization already has reached out to a few thousand potential competitors and expect to have several hundred compete in Miami. The World Physique Championship will look to scale its events out from there, while adding in live streaming on digital platforms. “We think there is a lot of opportunity where we can bring the physique industry up the standard of other professional sports,” he said.
In Boston, Ben Volin writes most NFL free-agency deals signed so far are "terrible value, by nature." One agent described the current landscape as "a bunch of C-plus and B-minus players getting 'A' money." Volin notes it is not surprising that "most of the money being thrown around is by teams desperate to improve." Meanwhile, almost every deal made so far is really, "two years, then we'll see." That "can't be a coincidence," since there are only two more seasons until the CBA expires in spring '21 (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/14).
STAR APPEAL: In Philadelphia, Marcus Hayes notes Baseball HOFer Reggie Jackson believes Phillies RF Bryce Harper is "the answer" to boosting baseball's popularity. Jackson said, "We need stars to draw attention. To play well. To lead the pack." Jackson acknowledged that the game "might have more-accomplished players than Harper." But Hayes notes those Cardinals 1B Paul Goldschmidt jerseys "aren't flying off the shelves" and nobody is "marketing" an Angels CF Mike Trout-branded candy bar like Jackson had in the late '70s (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 3/14).
MIAMI NICE: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis yesterday ahead of The Players did "a little lobbying" with PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan to "have a Tour event returned to the Miami area." DeSantis said, "I just look at our state, our biggest market ... could there potentially be a Tour event in the future, maybe a Presidents Cup." Miami hosted an annual tourney at Doral from '62-'16 before it moved to Mexico (Florida TIMES-UNION, 3/14).