Sigh. Must I always be the one to single-handedly solve a bitter labor crisis? Ah well. From up here on my cross/high horse, I will put an end to this madness. The impasse between owners and players can be solved — the two sides’ own (flawed) proposals are, in fact, proof.
The owners have made it clear a number of times and a number of ways: they claim to be able to pay salaries for about a 1⁄3 of a season (54 games worth) absent fans. So they offered full pro-rated salaries for a season of 54 games, and today they suggested a 76 game season at 75% of pro-rated player salaries. Gee, sounds different until you whip out your trusty calculator to find that 75% of 76 = 57, right in that ballpark of 1⁄3 of a season’s pay.
Meanwhile, the players have stood firm that they want two things: they want their full pro-rated pay now that they have made concessions for how April and May would be compensated, and they want enough games to make it worthwhile to risk their health for the cause.
What we have, currently, is an impasse of roughly 1/6 of a season (27 games). The players want to play, and get paid, for about 81 games, while the owners want to pay for about 54-58 games.
So let’s construct a compromise in which each side rolls the dice just a bit, and which uses the owners’ own closed-book-just-trust-us claims against them.
What we know:
- Owners have admitted that they can pay salaries for 54-58 games without the gate revenue that comes with fans in the stands.
- Players are on board with an 81 game season if they receive the full pro-rated salaries, i.e., 50% of their original contract.
How do we bridge those missing 27 games, and accompanying payroll, that forms the gap? The answer is for both sides to gamble a bit on the return of fans to the stands, in some form, during the months of July, August, and September.
Here’s the proposed compromise:
1. Both sides agree to an 81 game season, running from 7/1-9/30, with a post-season in October. That is eminently doable with 81 games in 92 days. (If you prefer a 7/4 start it works just the same, with 81 games in 89 days.)
2. Owners commit to a baseline guaranteed commitment of paying players for 69 games no matter what. This is essentially the midpoint of the number of paid games in yesterday’s owners proposal, and the players being paid fully for every game.
So at the outset, both sides risk giving up about the same thing — 12 games’ pay from where their heels are currently dug in. That is, if there are no fans in the stands then each side loses to the tune of 12 games worth of players salary.
However, fans in the stands becomes the presumed solution to this stalemate.
3. Each month that there are fans in the stands anywhere, players are paid for an additional 6 games, meaning their take for 81 games will be either 69, 75, 81, or 87 (the latter being a slight bonanza for the gamble they took).
Because it is not a revenue sharing model the sooner fans are allowed, the more fans allowed, the more venues allowing fans, the more owners will make — perhaps much more than just to offset the additional payroll. Or maybe just enough, or perhaps not quite enough. That’s their gamble.
The key is to make it so possible, and safe, to welcome a small number of fans in that owners and players both get the win of having most — if not all — venues agree to have fans by August 1st, if not by the start of the season.
FANS IN THE STANDS MODEL
Consider a section that has 20 seats to a row. In row 1, you allow fans only in seats 1, 11, 20. In row 2, you allow fans in seats 7, 14. Row 3 uses seats 1, 10, 20, row 4 uses seats 7, 14. And so on.
In this model fans are very spread out, seated more than 6 feet apart. However, given that each set of two rows has 5 fans seated across 40 seats, you are able to fill 1/8 of the stadium in this configuration. So in a stadium of 40,000 you have a seating capacity of 5,000.
Key Safety Policies
- All fans are required to wear masks throughout the game, except when they are chewing food or sipping drink. Rigorous, but necessary to ensure safety.
- No yelling, or vocal cheering, is allowed — only clapping, stomping, drumming, etc. (Note that at the Coliseum the public address system can blare out the “Let’s Go, Oakland” music and fans can finish with the rhythmic clapping or stomping, so a place like the Coliseum can still “rock” — but not through fans yelling out.)
- One investment stadium operations need to make is in extra security officers to ensure policies are being followed to the letter of the law. This creates jobs, so yay.
No concession stands, but lots of vendors coming around with the items you might wish to buy and eat. Vendors travel with those cool “trash picker uppers” which allows them to “hand” items (food, money) back and forth to fans from a distance.
No beer sales — blood alcohol levels and safety compliance just do not make for good bedfellows.
Moving around has to be mostly discouraged — games have to be mostly “in your seat” experiences — but one obvious exception is a trip to the bathroom. Due to the small numbers, lines at the bathroom should be very manageable using an ordinary system of marking off 6’ distances for waiting (and even at the urinal trough!).
Here’s the bottom line...When you create a gathering that takes place outdoors, in which everyone maintains a distance of 6+ feet, and in which everyone is wearing a mask, you have created conditions that are safe — certainly when compared to hanging out at the park, shopping at Trader Joe’s, and all the other activities currently deemed “safe enough” daily activities.
You would think that right now, several states (Texas, Georgia, Florida, etc.) would endorse having 5,000 fans/game under these conditions starting “opening day” (July 1st). That means significant gate revenue for owners, and “full pay and then some” for players.
But additionally, it seems reasonable to think that even the more conservative states — such as our own California — might be open to such a fan model at some point during the summer, perhaps around August 1st if not sooner. That’s a lot of extra revenue for the pot.
In my proposal, if there are no fans, ever, each side takes a 12 game hit on payroll. It’s also by far the least likely scenario. More likely, owners recoup that extra payroll and players earn their full pro-rated pay, if not more, as states embrace a model that really does allow fans to participate in a way that is safe for all. And both sides avoid the P.R. clusterf*** that will haunt them for years to come if they continue to squabble about money during a pandemic and economic depression.
Can we play ball now?