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MLB crowns a rocky 12 months with the title Braves vs. Astros

Atlanta Braves Relief pitcher Will Smith, left, celebrates with catcher Travis d’Arnaud after winning the Los Angeles Dodgers in the sixth game of the 2021 National League Championship Series at Truist Park on Saturday, October 23, 2021 in Atlanta, GA : 2 has defeated.

Wally Skalij | Los Angeles Times | Getty Images

The Atlanta Braves last won the World Series in 1995, marking the beginning of a new era in Major League Baseball.

With the team returning to the MLB’s biggest stage for the first time in this millennium, the league faces another possible wave of change.

The Braves play against the Houston Astros in the 2021 World Series, which begins Tuesday. The last time the Braves lifted the World Series trophy, it was the first ever MLB championship after a strike that wiped out the 1994 title streak.

The MLB looks different now, not least because the team that defeated Atlanta in 1995, the Cleveland Indians, will have a new nickname next year. Cleveland is set to change its name to Guardians after continuing pressure to drop a name that critics see as racist. Atlanta kept its name despite similar calls.

Atlanta’s return to the World Series coincides with potential work issues that threaten to derail the league. With the MLB championship ending a rocky year for baseball, this is the league.

World Series is a “rich irony”

The 2021 season started with a record number of no-hitters as some pitchers took an advantage by applying substances to baseballs. The league began cracking down on pitchers in June. The MLB still ended the 2021 season with nine no-hitters, breaking the record of eight established 137 years ago.

In a year when the league was rocked by crackdowns, the MLB had bright spots, including breakout superstar Shohei Ohtani.

Much of the intrigue in the World Series comes from the Braves and Astros themselves. At the MLB’s marquee event, two of the teams will be at the center of the league’s turmoil for the past two years.

The Astros’ cheating scheme in the 2017 playoffs and 2018 season resulted in fines and layoffs. The layoffs included manager AJ Hinch, who led the team to a championship in 2017. Since fans were finally allowed to go back to stadiums this season with the easing of the coronavirus pandemic, some of the Astros whistled off during their street games.

Houston Astros Carlos Correa # 1 attends a pre-World Series practice against the Atlanta Braves at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas on October 25, 2021.

Carmen Mandato | Getty Images

Atlanta has been embroiled in an argument that extends beyond the baseball world. After Georgia officials passed a restrictive voting bill, the MLB moved the All-Star game from Atlanta to Denver in 2021.

The league received praise and backlash for the decision. President Joe Biden endorsed MLB’s move. Braves owner Liberty Media was upset and Atlanta tourism officials claimed a $ 100 million loss. A conservative group sued the league for more than $ 1 billion in damages.

Former MLB manager Marty Conway called the 2021 World Series a “rich irony” due to the presence of the teams. He noted that MLB commissioner Rob Manfred “has to present the World Series trophy in either Houston or Atlanta,” where he could expect a negative reaction.

The added drama surrounding the Braves and Astros could boost MLB viewership, added Conway, a former special assistant to former MLB commissioner Peter Ueberroth.

“It’s a bit of a WWE effect,” said Conway, now a professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. “You have to have some drama and some characters, and I think that gives them some of the options that tuning-ins will give them.”

MLB will see if the storylines can help World Series viewers return to their pre-pandemic normal.

Last year the Los Angeles Dodgers won their first World Series since 1988. But consumer habits and an abundance of sports programs meant that the six-game series averaged 9.7 million viewers. Of that, 9.1 million was for Game 1 – the least-watched World Series game of all time.

The 2019 World Series drew 23 million viewers for Game 7 between the Astros and Washington Nationals. The entire series drew an average of around 13 million viewers.

The five-game World Series 2018 between the Red Sox and Dodgers drew an average of around 14 million viewers. The Astros’ 2017 World Series win against the Dodgers drew an average of 18.9 million viewers across seven games.

Manfred is a “work optimist”

Until the end of the World Series, the league has work problems to deal with.

The MLB’s collective agreement with the players expires on December 1st. Another strike threatens if both sides fail to agree on a new deal or extend the current pact.

The last strike in 1994 was the longest in MLB history, causing the first World Series cancellation since 1904.

Topics at stake include additional playoff games that will spark talks about sharing new revenue. Manipulating service time – which helps determine how much players can make – is an issue, especially after a former Seattle Mariners manager admitted cheating on the system. The addition of a Universal Designated Hitter is also up for debate.

Conway said MLB is approaching a “difficult winter” as work talks intensify. While the league works out a new employment contract, corporate sponsors could freeze league and team revenues.

Manfred described himself as a “work optimist” at a conference organized by the Sports Business Journal earlier this month.

Manfred is supposed to shine in this part of the MLB business. Manfred was responsible for labor relations under former MLB boss Bud Selig and has prevented lockouts for the past 26 years, including the current five-year CBA.

The commissioner has declined to go into details of recent talks with MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark, but predicted a deal could be reached by December 1.

When asked if he would agree that a deal could be made by that scheduled date, Conway said no. He said the union would have more leverage in talks about the spring training session. At this point in time, MLB games are under threat and owners could lose money.

But even if MLB goes through a suspension, it is not expected to mimic the 1994 one.

“The numbers, in terms of what the players are doing now and what the franchise ratings are – I don’t think they want to play roulette with them,” said Conway.

Major League Baseball Commissioner Robert D. Manfred Jr. presents the Commissioner’s Trophy to Houston Astros owner Jim Crane after the Astros beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 7 of the 2017 World Series at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday, November 1, 2017 in Los Angeles had defeated California.

Alex Trautwig | Getty Images

The regional problems of the MLB

World Series viewers aside, MLB’s media rights are secured for the next decade. The deals include the more than $ 3 billion package with WarnerMedia. The MLB also receives approximately $ 728 million annually from Fox Sports, which holds the rights to the World Series.

Fox also benefited from the Field of Dreams television show that year, which drew 5.9 million viewers. MLB will be playing that movie-themed game again in 2022.

MLB has a weekday package that ESPN removed from its extension, but it has an even bigger problem on the regional sports front.

Sinclair has local rights to 14 MLB teams on its Bally Sports channels and pays sports leagues more than $ 1 billion in rights fees. There is no streaming strategy to combat cable severing, however.

Earlier this month, Manfred Sinclair’s streaming ambitions dealt another blow when he said the company did not have enough rights to develop digital offerings for MLB consumers. Manfred then added that the additional streaming rights weren’t cheap.

The subject is not ideal for MLB. The league still depends on regional sports networks for exposure to their games. It uses regional sports network feeds for MLB.TV, its non-market streaming service.

More than 10 billion minutes have been consumed on the service this season, according to MLB. Marketing firm Playfly Sports said 85% of MLB viewers come from RSNs.

Additionally, the MLB rights are the foundation for the sports networks as they have the most ad inventory during the league’s 162 game campaign. This income helps RSNs stay afloat.

Playfly CEO Michael Schreiber called the local audience of MLB “stable”. He added that sports affinity “is the only thing that will sustain itself. The question is, beyond that, how do you build the media market?”

“That will have the biggest impact on the local franchises,” added Georgetown’s Conway, referring to the local media rights revenue. “These contracts are the most important in any of the baseball markets. The fact that the future of these payments is uncertain should be a top concern in my opinion.”

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