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Report: Clubs typically don’t have to repay local TV networks until 25 games are missed

Citizens Bank Park has been home to the Phillies since 2004. (Tim Kelly/Phillies Nation)

In announcing that the league was cancelling the first two series of the regular season Tuesday, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred erased five games from the Philadelphia Phillies’ 2022 schedule; three in Houston and two in D.C.

However, it might take even more missed games until the league is financially incentivized to make significant concessions to the MLB Players Association.

In addition to noting that teams typically make more of a profit during the summer months when the weather is the nicest, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic wrote Wednesday that “local television contracts generally do not require clubs to issue rebates to their networks until about 25 games are missed.”

Talks between the league and Players Association could resume as soon as Thursday, but if deadlines with financial implications spur action, the league’s 30 owners may not be especially worried about a larger chunk of April’s games being wiped out.

That’s not to say that it’s necessarily their desired outcome — though it may be in certain cases — but if the season starts on Friday, April 22, for example, teams wouldn’t be forced to return money to local TV networks. And in theory, the postseason wouldn’t be threatened, which as Rosenthal reminds us is where “the big money in the league’s national-television contracts comes from.”

You then begin to understand why the league has apparently pushed a 14-team postseason so hard, even if it would seemingly water down the 162-game regular season and isn’t something that most fans desire.

Where the MLBPA could push back here is that if they feel owners aren’t displaying a sense of urgency to get a new CBA done and have the regular season start as soon as possible, they could threaten not to agree to expanded playoffs at all in 2022. Some type of compromise — probably the playoffs moving from 10 to 12 teams — is coming in 2023, when there will be 162 games played. But if players aren’t going to get paid for a 162-game slate in 2022, what motivation do they have to agree to any playoff expansion this year that will further enrich owners?

There are quite a few interesting macro issues for society that we’re seeing play out on the micro level in negotiations and the PR battle between the league and players right now.

Ultimately, though, the most interesting outcome here would be for owners to make some significant concessions in the coming days to avoid any more lost games.


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