What Does the Collapse of Labor Talks Mean for MLB Uni Ads?

As I’m sure you all know by now, the MLB season will not start on time, as the ongoing labor impasse yesterday led MLB commish Rob Manfred to cancel each team’s first two series. With both sides seemingly dug in, further cancellations are possible.

What does this mean for the prospect of ads on MLB uniforms, which were widely considered to be a fait accompli as part of the new collective bargaining agreement? Here are some thoughts:

1a. Players receive their paychecks only during the regular season — not during the offseason or even during spring training — so the cancellation of regular season games means that players will lose some pay. The union previously said that if that happened, the players would rescind their previously stated support for expanded playoffs and uniform ads. So yesterday’s move by MLB will presumably reset the possibility of uni ads back to square one.

1b. However: As part of the ongoing negotiations, MLB could offer to provide retroactive backpay to the players, despite the cancelled games, which would presumably make the union more amenable to uni ads and expanded playoffs.

2a. As I wrote last week, the best hope for ad-free MLB uniforms may be that the two sides clearly can’t stand each other — and the collapse of negotiations yesterday no doubt exacerbated that situation. As long as the two sides view each other with mistrust, bad faith, and spite, the more likely it is that they’ll fail to come together on things like uniform ads.

2b. However: Just as the pandemic provided a handy excuse for things like MLB mound ads and NHL helmet ads (“We’ve lost so much revenue, we have to make it back somehow!”), the cancellation of regular season MLB games may provide a similar fig leaf for the imposition of uni ads (“We have to make back that revenue somehow!”).

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Overall, the most likely outcome is still that MLB’s new labor deal will include a provision for uniform advertising. Both sides want it — it’s just a question of how many concessions on other issues the players can extract in return for signing off on it. Still, nothing is settled yet, so we’ll wait and see.

One thing I’m certain of: Nobody is happier about yesterday’s developments than the folks at USFL 2.0, whose schedule is slated to begin on April 16. I’m sure they’re rooting for the MLB mess to drag on as long as possible.

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Speaking of MLB uni ads: With MLB uni ads very much in the air, my latest piece for Bulletin provides a close look at the eight neutral-site series that have included uniform advertising over the past two decades, along with an FAQ section about the potential new uni ad program.

My premium subscribers can read the article here. If you haven’t yet subscribed, you can do that here (you’ll need a Facebook account in order to pay). If you want more info on what you’ll get for your money, you can find that here. And if the Facebook requirement is a dealbreaker, email me and I’ll keep you in the loop about developments regarding non-Facebook payment options and possible workarounds. Thanks!

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Start ’em young: I received a note yesterday from reader Jimmy Berry, as follows:

My 10-year-old son, Mase, had a hockey tournament this weekend. You can see what he did with his stick tape — our family does not have a Ukrainian background, but he thought it was important.

It must have worked, as he had four goals and five assists in four games (including the game-winner in the finals). He is asking for fresh tape this weekend!

Very cool. Thanks for sharing, Jimmy, and big congrats to Mase!

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The Ticker
By Lloyd Alaban

Baseball News: New logo for the West Coast League (from multiple readers). … The next few items are from Kary Klimset: What was the first-ever baseball card? It’s complicated. … Point Loma Nazarene University of San Diego’s Carroll B. Land Stadium has been described by some as “America’s Most Scenic Ballpark.” … The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, the Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate, have unveiled the promotional jerseys they’ll wear this season. … Black vs. black last night for South Carolina and Appalachian State (from Rick Johnston).

Football News: New 20th-season logo for Coastal Carolina University, which established its football program in 2003 (from Kyle Hardee). … A shop in Fort Collins, Colo., has created a 1994 Holiday Bowl hoodie, complete with era-appropriate logos and ads. Colorado State and Michigan met in that 1994 matchup and will play again this season (from Bob Hillie). … Here’s a great colorized photo of Bears players wearing warm-up jackets with the 1939 World’s Fair logo (from John Turney).

Hockey News: Pride-themed warm-ups for the Blue Jackets last night (from Wade Heidt). … Leftover from last weekend: color vs. color for Notre Dame and Michigan (from Dan Cichalski). … New logo for Ak Bars Kazan of the KHL (from multiple readers). … The Sheffield Steelers of the Elite Ice Hockey League will raffle off sweaters in support of Ukraine (from Simon G.).

Basketball News: Here’s more news about the Mavericks’ recently leaked jerseys. … 25th-anniversary logo for the WNBA’s Washington Mystics (from Lynn Addington). … For Senior Night on Monday, Iowa men’s gave its departing players framed jerseys in a template they haven’t worn in three years (from Kary Klismet). … Kentucky men’s retired No. 48 in honor of Bill Keightley, the team’s uniform manager who died in 2009. The jersey retired is one Kentucky wore in 2009 (from Michael Kinney).

Soccer News: Before a women’s German Cup quarterfinal game between Carl Zeiss Jena and Bayern Munich yesterday, both teams posed with a banner saying, “Stopp den Krieg!,” which translates to “Stop the war!” Carl Zeiss Jena’s colors are blue and yellow, and they wore a yellow/blue/yellow combo for this game when they usually go mono (from our own Jamie Rathjen). … Adidas has withdrawn as the kit manufacturer of the Russian Football Union (from multiple readers). … Brighton & Hove Albion will wear their third kits this weekend, which are the colors of the Ukrainian flag (from Mark Coale). … The next few items are from Kary Klismet: Adidas is apparently manufacturing on-field jerseys for MLS teams using lower-quality fabric that the rest of the world’s top clubs usually use for retail jerseys. … Here are renderings of some Italian stadiums that were never built. … Here’s a 1992 prototype of a shirt that Brazilian side Flamengo never wore. … New home shirts for Union Omaha of USL League One.

Grab Bag: Tennis star Venus Williams has inked a new deal with Lacoste (from our own Brinke Guthrie). … A high school and middle school in suburban Seattle are soliciting public submissions to design new mascots (from Kary Klismet). … Also from Kary: Here’s a look at the new uniforms in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. … The NYPD has unveiled the uniforms for its new anti-gun unit (from Timmy Donahue). … Remember Paul’s coverage of Baltimore saltboxes? Here’s one featuring the Ukrainian flag (from Marcus Hall).

30 comments to What Does the Collapse of Labor Talks Mean for MLB Uni Ads?

  • Marcus Hall from Baltimore | March 2, 2022 at 8:16 am |

    *Venus is with LaCoste
    *The Ukrainian flag is *pinned/stapled* on the saltbox

  • R. Scott Rogers | March 2, 2022 at 8:19 am |

    Assuming the MLB season is delayed only a few weeks, and the final contract permits uniform ads: How quickly would teams or the league be able to implement ad deals and adorn/ruin MLB uniforms with advertising patches?

    Also, it appears that Baltimore salt box has had a cloth Ukrainian flag nailed and stapled to it. The tufts of fabric extending past the corners tend to argue for a cloth flag, rather than a photorealistic painting of a cloth flag.

    • Paul Lukas | March 2, 2022 at 8:22 am |

      That question, among many others, is addressed in today’s Bulletin article.

  • Jasper | March 2, 2022 at 9:17 am |

    MLB uniforms currently have an ad on them, the Swoosh that Nike paid to have added a couple of years back.

    • Greg | March 2, 2022 at 9:30 am |

      100% agree.

    • Paul Lukas | March 2, 2022 at 9:50 am |

      Yes (and they had the Majestic “ad” before that). But when we say “uni ads,” that’s shorthand for “third-party ads, not maker’s marks.”

      You already knew that, of course.

      • Jasper | March 2, 2022 at 11:23 am |

        Much in the same way that you know that the swoosh logo is not a “maker’s mark”.

        I do get why you call it that (it’s for the lack of a better term), but from the point of view of a uniform’s aesthetic appeal it’s unclear why there is any reason to make the distinction. In other words, if instead of the Nike swoosh, there was a Pepsi logo, isn’t the visual effect exactly the same?

        • Paul Lukas | March 2, 2022 at 11:30 am |

          Much in the same way that you know that the swoosh logo is not a “maker’s mark”.

          Actually, it is indeed a maker’s mark — it is literally the mark of the maker. Simpler/easier to say/type/read than “manufacturer’s logo.” Shorthand.

          If you can’t understand the aesthetic *and* cultural difference between a maker’s mark and a third-party ad logo, I don’t know what else to tell you. Let’s please move on. Thanks.

  • Greg | March 2, 2022 at 9:34 am |

    Paul,
    What would you say has made uni-ads more acceptable in the last 5 years? Presumably the NBA not facing overwhelming backlash has emboldened the other leagues. But what do think made the NBA think “we can get away with this”?
    I think the simple answer is they are just more brazen about their greed. But was wondering if there was something on the other side of the fence they noticed that made them think now was the time.

    • Paul Lukas | March 2, 2022 at 9:54 am |

      Generally speaking, our culture has grown more tolerant of treating more and more things as self-justifying functions of transactional capitalism (“It’s just business”), so the norms of what is and isn’t acceptable have shifted.

      In addition, as I’ve written about a few times, shame has become a dwindling factor in our culture. This too affects accepted norms (and also the consequences, or lack thereof, of violating those norms).

  • AJ Kane | March 2, 2022 at 9:49 am |

    Paul, is it all right to discuss a point you made in your Bulletin column here? I don’t want to be exclusionary.

    • Paul Lukas | March 2, 2022 at 9:55 am |

      I’d prefer to keep the Bulletin discussion on Bulletin. Feel free to comment there.

      • AJ Kane | March 2, 2022 at 9:57 am |

        Sure thing!

  • Marc | March 2, 2022 at 10:26 am |

    The name of the new Star Trek is “Strange New Worlds.” Plural, not singular.

    I know, I know, NERRRRRRRRRRD!

    • Paul Lukas | March 2, 2022 at 10:30 am |

      Fixed!

    • Rob S | March 2, 2022 at 12:33 pm |

      As a Star Trek nerd (my favorite unis are the “Monster Maroons” introduced in The Wrath of Khan), I naturally am interested in the details. Most notable is that they opted to drop the Discovery-style unis that appeared in season 2 of that show. These feel somewhere in between the unis of the Abrams films (the “Kelvin timeline”) and the Original Series.

      One detail I spotted has to do with the pants and boots. The pants from the Original Series had a stitched-in fold at the boot line, giving the pants a blousing effect. These just go straight into the boot. Of course, these boots have a unique design that doesn’t really favor blousing, so that’s understandable.

      • mike 2 | March 2, 2022 at 4:03 pm |

        I assume that you mean the Discovery uniforms that Pike and Number One wore on the Enterprise?

        I assume they dropped them though to get closer to the Original Series uniforms though – a simple neckline and a t-shirt underneath rather than the more complicated Discovery uniform.

        Those season 2 uniforms were sweet. I would have loved to see a season or two of those before transitioning to the TOS uniforms.

        • Rob S | March 2, 2022 at 5:08 pm |

          Yep, those were the ones.

  • Joel Keller | March 2, 2022 at 10:35 am |

    The new USFL has its own issues right now, and it may not start as scheduled. Apparently whoever owned the rights to the league name and team logos was never consulted when Fox revived the league.

    https://www.cbssports.com/nfl/news/original-usfl-ex-owners-file-lawsuit-aimed-at-new-usfl-potentially-halting-start-of-spring-football-league/

    • Marcus Hall from Baltimore | March 2, 2022 at 1:00 pm |

      These spring leagues are having a devil of a time!

  • Dave | March 2, 2022 at 11:11 am |

    While I am anxiously awaiting word on MLB uni ads, as someone who lives through the 90’s lockout that has baseball teetering on the brink of irrelevance or perhaps just in the toilet in terms of public perception, and only the steroid era of muscles and dingers could save it, these negotiations are only moving the league closer to that point of irrelevance. I remember loving baseball as a kid in the 80s, and when I see classic games, mostly unburdened by overt in-game advertising and self-promotion by network shills in the booth I am reminded of how enjoyable it was to watch a game back then. After the lockout I generally didn’t care about baseball unless it was my local team and they were not too terrible, and interest in the “home run race” and the mega performances of those who used steroids was only a sideshow novelty. It didn’t make me care more about baseball, only about those records and performances. Now we have another circus where we are reminded of how highly these two sides think of themselves and their money and how little they care about the game or the fans. Baseball is a valuable form of escapism, and to some extent, inspiration for people, but it isn’t irreplaceable. These are people who either (owners) have more money than most families would need to live in luxury for many generations or (players) are in their 20s-mid30s making more money and receiving more fame than most people could ever fathom in exchange for staying in good physical shape, and performing a small number of athletic skills on a regular basis. That money and fame comes from fans, and if they want to give us this respite to consider that there are more important things in life, things offered by people who are less greedy, less fortunate in their rewards, and perhaps more appreciative of their rewards, then they can go ahead and keep talking. Hockey, basketball, golf, tennis and many other diversions are still on offer, and the NFL combine is coming up. Baseball wants to leave money on the table and leave fans in the lurch all in the name of making money and attracting more fans. Fools.

    • Scott | March 2, 2022 at 8:53 pm |

      Of course, you could have written this at any time in baseball history, because supposedly the sport is always at the point of irrelevance. I bet you said the same thing in the 1920s after the Black Sox scandal, right? And yet somehow baseball keeps raking in billions of dollars every year and only gets more popular over time.

      • dave | March 3, 2022 at 12:08 am |

        Yeah maybe. I once thought of it as a Seinfeld situation. I loved Seinfeld, but they went off the air and I was bummed briefly, but got over it quickly and moved on to other things. That’s how I figure it will go when (and of course it is a when not an if) any major sport goes away. But at the moment perhaps it is a Simpsons thing. I grew up with what I consider to be the heyday of the the show and in my estimation the quality of the product slowly diminished until I no longer cared that it even existed and eventually began intentionally avoiding it. However each generation seems to find a love for their glory years with the show. So ok, it’s a personal opinion. Tell me again, baseball, about how you’re all so downtrodden, oppresses, miserable, and poorly compensated, refuse to make any concessions to the idea that the evolution of the game is either too slow or too off the mark to keep up with “more exciting sports.” I’ll find something better to do. And sure, I’ll agree that plenty of people probably get to this point after every CBA.

  • JDHokie | March 2, 2022 at 1:20 pm |

    A matter of semantics, but it’s bothering me. I’ve seen several reports of “Opening Day is cancelled.” True, that week of games has been cancelled, but “Opening Day” will just become the first day of the season, whenever that ends up happening. Opening Day won’t be cancelled unless the entire season is also cancelled!

    /rant

    • Mic | March 2, 2022 at 3:55 pm |

      Agreed.
      I am a longtime baseball fan, but outside of opening day (i.e. my favorite team’s home opener) I am not usually invested or excited by early season games.
      I prefer live attendance & in many markets 4 hours at the park is not as enjoyable in April weather. If opening day happens in May or even June it won’t be a problem for me individually.
      I think baseball could actually benefit from faster games & a shorter season. So start the season later this year & use this stoppage to actually negotiate to include changes that improve the pace of play. Maybe this can turnout to be a positive for the sport.

      • Scott | March 2, 2022 at 8:56 pm |

        A shorter season would be a disaster for the sport. Why on Earth would anybody want less of something? Real baseball fans appreciate the 162-game season.

        • dave | March 3, 2022 at 12:10 am |

          They could make it a 320 game season.

      • dave | March 3, 2022 at 12:25 am |

        I agree that a shorter season and speeding up the pace of the game so make it more enticing to want to just sit down and throw on a game. However I also think the opposite is true for many. I always found watching baseball to be a sort of meditative experience when I was a wee lad (the 80’s), and when Covid forced my local station to run classic tigers games, I could really pinpoint the differences between them and now. Anything pre-90s lacked a score bug and info crawl, you had to wait for the end or beginning of a commercial break to find out the score, and you had to pay attention to know the count and where baserunners were. On field ads were mostly relegated to outfield fences, and sponsorships were minimal in comparison to now where every aspect of the game is brought to us by some advertising partner. Announcers felt more comfortable with silences and letting us hear the sounds of the game, rather than fill every moment with some chatter or, failing that, mentions of special episodes of some show, or whatever. Of course, you could look at every generation and see that there is less and less of all of this as you go farther back and more as you get closer to present day.

        I totally see the allure of making baseball a little more zippy. Cricket found a great deal of success in its short game short season leagues. And I think that is the inevitable answer, because they are in too deep to roll back all the clutter and noise of corporate interference to pre-90s levels. But I fear watching MLB will never feel zen again.

  • Harvey Drinkwater | March 2, 2022 at 2:56 pm |

    I hope the people from Howie’s Hockey Tape sees the story on Mase and his tape job and they hook him up with all the tape he needs.