It’s been something that’s been talked about privately for a while now within baseball circles. It’s been something that I’ve spoken about publicly, though more just having thought exercises than actual scoops from baseball employees who have the power to enact something – but it’s felt like there was next to no chance of a minor league season being played in 2020 for at least the last month. And now it seems that words is getting out that Major League Baseball teams are planning as if that will be the case according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network.
Teams are planning as if there’s no minor league season. It isn’t officially canceled yet but that’s just in the hope there’s a great improvement in virus data. It still seems likely to be canceled; the proposal of a taxi squad by MLB to the union accounts for that likelihood.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) May 15, 2020
Once the idea was put out there in negotiations between Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association the writing was on the wall for the most part. They seemed to be acknowledging the unlikelihood of there being a minor league season in 2020.
There are a lot of reasons for this. First is that while the MLB teams pay the minor league players, they don’t own and operate a very large majority of the facilities that are used for the games that the players use at minor league ballparks. Those team owners make all of their money off of ticket and merchandise sales – if they make money at all. Baseball America’s pointed out more than a few times in all of this that even a few rain outs per year can be the difference between a minor league team making money or losing money in a given year.
Unlike their big league counterparts, most teams don’t have broadcast revenue from television deals. The teams that do broadcast their home games in local markets often only do so for some of those games, and they certainly aren’t getting large contracts for doing so like big league clubs who in some cases get hundreds of millions of dollars per year for their broadcast rights (looking at you, Los Angeles Dodgers).
With where we are in society right now, with the inability for health reasons to congregate in large crowds and hold sporting events with fans, minor league teams that aren’t owned and operated by the major league teams have no incentive to open up for games with no revenue possibilities. Opening up would cost them money hand over fist and they wouldn’t be able to pay the bills.
While it’s very unlikely that we will see minor league baseball this year, that doesn’t mean we may not see some sort of fall ball. The Arizona Fall League, Instructional League (that in 2019/2020 actually took place prior to spring training) may still be on the table depending on how things develop with regards to how we handle this pandemic.