MLB negotiations are being followed by labor relations experts from afar

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Allen Sanderson grew up in Idaho. He played high school baseball, and he worked for a Twin Falls minor league team. This provided a ride home to Dick Allen, long before he was a well-known slugger for the Philadelphia Phillies.

This is part of Sanderson’s view on baseball’s labor crisis. He has been a long-time baseball fan. He also follows the story from another perspective: one of a University of Chicago sports economist.

“What is the best division between the owner and the player?” What should the owners pay? Sanderson asked Sanderson, “How much should the owners get?” There is no one right answer. You could make french fries at McDonald’s, or other similar places. You probably have a right answer for that question as to what is a reasonable wage in a competitive market.

“But once you get into the entertainment or sports world, all bets are off. It is largely about how well I can negotiate with our side in this.

This last part isn’t going well right now, at least not for Major League Baseball and its locked-out players.

The ninth baseball work stoppage lasted 96 days, on Monday. This is the first labor dispute in the sport to force games to be cancelled since 1994-95, when the strike that decimated the World Series was halted for the first time ever in 90 years.

On Sunday, the sides met for 95 minutes and largely reaffirmed their positions. After nine days of negotiations in Jupiter, Florida last week, negotiations broke down. Commissioner Rob Manfred cancelled the first two series for each team’s season, totalling 91 games.

The sides are trying to find a way forward and hoping to get baseball back on its field. However, experts in labor relations, sports business, and economics are also watching the dispute from an academic perspective.

Art Wheaton, director of labor studies at the Buffalo Co-Lab for Cornell University’s industrial and labor relations school, said that “I see it through the collective bargaining prism.”

“The lens, I do a lot for unions about negotiation and how to negotiate, so anything that has to do with contract time, I watch out.”

Manfred, Dan Halem, Deputy Commissioner and Gary Bettman were all graduates of the Cornell ILR School.

Wheaton sees the baseball negotiations as a complex process that involves a mix of stakeholders, including big- and small-market players, agents trying to influence the negotiations indirectly from afar, and players with a variety of salaries.

Wheaton, who is a Cincinnati Reds fan and a Boston Red Sox fan, said that collective bargaining can be achieved where everyone on the union side and every on the company side try to solve the differences.

“Collective” means working together. That is what I believe has been broken down in this case.

Wheaton also criticized what he called “deadline negotiation,” which is waiting until the very last minute to start substantive negotiations in order to create big movement. The sides did not meet again until January 13 after Major League Baseball had locked out its players in December.

It’s not an uncommon tactic. He said that he didn’t think it was a helpful tactic. “You create a lot more stress and high risk. Some people like it because it forces the other party to make a decision. It’s not always the best approach to making a rational, good economic decision.

It remains to be seen what the long-term effects of the lockout will be. Baseball took years to recover from the last time it cancelled games due to labor actions. Manfred will likely wipe out more of the schedule soon if there’s no resolution.

Stephen Greyser, a Harvard Business School marketing and communications professor and long-time Red Sox season ticket holder said that “I think what baseball is doing it is turning off casual fans and turning off young fans.”

“The truth is that those people won’t be interested in watching TV or going to games if there are no games and the season doesn’t start.”