Amid the ongoing MLB lockout that has already resulted in baseball’s first loss of games due to a work stoppage in nearly 30 years, the league and its players’ union are waging a public relations battle in addition to the one at the negotiating table. So far, the MLB Players Association has won that battle decisively, as U.S. baseball fans are much more likely to pin the blame for the failure to reach a new collective bargaining agreement on the owners, according to a new Morning Consult survey.
MLB Owners Take Brunt of Fans’ Blame for Labor Dispute With Players
What the numbers say
- Self-identified MLB fans were more than twice as likely to say the owners are most responsible for the failure to reach an agreement (45 percent) as they were to say the players bear the brunt of the blame (21 percent). About 1 in 3 baseball fans (34 percent) said they don’t know or have no opinion on which side is most responsible for the dispute.
- The subset of fans who characterized their fandom as “avid” were also more likely to side with the players, but did so at a lower rate (1.8 times) than self-identified “casual” fans (2.4 times). Similarly, U.S. adults who said they typically attend at least one MLB game per season blamed the owners at a lower rate (1.9 times) than those who don’t attend games (2.7 times).
- More fans blamed the owners for this round of labor unrest than in the summer of 2020, when the two sides attempted to negotiate the terms of a return to play following the delay of the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In that instance, 33 percent of MLB fans said the owners deserved the most blame if the two parties were unable to strike a deal, while 24 percent said the players would be at fault, meaning fans were 1.4 times more likely to side with the players than the owners. Ultimately, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred mandated the scheduling of a 60-game season after the two sides failed to reach an agreement.
- The share of MLB fans who said Manfred is either “very” or “somewhat” responsible for the sides’ inability to agree to a deal (63 percent) was about the same as the share who said the same of MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark (61 percent).
MLB Fans Prefer Limiting Playoff Field to Fewer Teams
More about the numbers
- Outside of the core economic issues, one sticking point in talks between MLB and the union has been whether to increase the number of teams that qualify for the postseason and, if so, how many teams should get in. More than half of MLB fans (56 percent) said they “strongly” or “somewhat” support keeping the number of playoff teams at 10.
- The more teams allowed to qualify for the playoffs in each proposal, the smaller the fan support: 47 percent said they support expanding to 12 teams, 38 percent said they support expanding to 14 teams and 36 percent said they support expanding to 16 teams.
- Earlier in the lockout, Manfred announced that the new collective bargaining agreement would include the universal implementation of the designated hitter — currently allowed only in the American League — in both the American and National Leagues. Fifty-six percent of MLB fans said they support the change, compared to 22 percent who oppose it.
MLB ownership is losing the lockout in the court of public opinion, but it’s unclear what, if any, impact this will have on fans’ appetite for baseball when the sport returns. Forty-six percent of MLB fans said they feel “frustrated” about the lockout, but the same share said they are “hopeful” — presumably that the two sides will come to an agreement without losing a significant number of games. Forty-two percent of fans said they are “indifferent” about the lockout, which is arguably worse for the league.
Nearly a third of baseball fans (31 percent) said the full 162-game baseball season is too long, so the elimination of a handful of games is unlikely to have a major emotional impact on fans that could lead to a boycott, even if it does cost teams a few games worth of attendance and in-stadium revenue.
As for playoff expansion, MLB owners are pushing for a 14-team field, which reportedly would net the league an additional $100 million in annual TV rights revenue. The players’ union has used this as a bargaining chip in negotiations, reportedly refusing to grant the league more than 12 teams, which would still bring in $85 million for the league.
MLB and the MLBPA did not respond to requests to comment on this story.
The March 5-6, 2022, survey was conducted among a representative sample of 1,305 self-identified MLB fans ages 18 and older, with an unweighted margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.