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Why the MLB lockout could disrupt NYCFC’s season

Club owners are asking for federal mediation, and that's not good

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MLB: DEC 02 Major League Baseball Lockout
Chain of fools.
Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

New York City FC’s 2022 home schedule is a thing of beauty: Rational, measured, thoughtful. All but two games take place on Saturday or Sunday, and almost all will be played at Yankee Stadium or Citi Field—only one match will be held in the wilds of Harrison, NJ at the (admittedly nice) Red Bulls Arena. The good feels from that December day when NYCFC lifted the MLS Cup – and manager Ronny Deila took off his clothes – are still with us.

Rather, the home schedule is a thing of beauty in theory. In case you haven't heard, NYCFC tend to play their games in baseball stadiums, and the days and times of those matches are contingent on the schedules of the New York Yankees and the New York Mets. Right now, Major League Baseball is entering the second month of a lockout that threatens to derail the start of the season—and possibly disrupt the most elegant schedule in the short, proud history of NYCFC.

This lockout is MLB’s first work stoppage since the 1994 and 1995 seasons were shredded into a raccoon’s nest by bad faith negotiations, scab players, and court appearances. By many accounts, the strike led to the fall of the Montréal Expos—and the rise of a federal district court judge in Manhattan named Sonia Sotomayor.

Why is there a lockout right now? In short, it’s because club owners are trying to force the players union to accept terms that favor the clubs.

MLB’s Collective Bargaining Agreement expired in December, and club owners are pressing the players union to agree to more playoff games in exchange for a shortened season and a designated hitter for both the American League and National League, among other changes—note that club owners get 100% of the highly profitable broadcast revenue from playoff games while players only get a share of the gate. For their part, players want to renegotiate their shrinking share of team revenue and to expand free agency. You can read a good lockout primer here.

Our colleagues at Pinstripe Alley come down firmly on the side of the players, with Peter Brody writing that the owners might deliberately delay the start of the season to get what they want: “It feels like the owners are playing chicken with the players, confident that they (the owners) are better positioned financially to withstand a potential loss of games.” Brody points out that in the COVID-shortened 2020 season, owners sought to pay prorated salaries for a 70-80 game season in violation of a previous agreement, and simply ran out the clock until they got what they wanted. Brody writes, “ultimately, the season was decided with the owners unilaterally imposing a 60-game schedule with full pro-rated pay, and it’s fair to question whether this was the plan all along.”

In recent days, MLB club owners called for the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service to become involved, echoing a similar request made in 1994. While that might sound promising it seems to be a cynical move that The Athletic reported could be simply a “PR play for owners.”

That doesn’t bode well for NYCFC.

Normally, baseball players would report for Spring Training in mid-February to get prepare for the opening of the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues on February 26. That seems increasingly unlikely, especially if the call for a federal negotiator is just a stalling tactic. A late start to the preseason might not matter all that much, but a late start to the regular season could easily have a cascading effect that might dismantle NYCFC’s exquisite home schedule.

Even one small change could delay a game for weeks—it happened before. The brain trust at NYCFC HQ is likely thinking up contingency plans, maybe scouting new “home” fields like that one in Los Angeles.

Let’s hope that MLB can get its act together.