Major League Baseball reached a new labor agreement with its players union, ending a three-month lockout and paving the way for the season to start next month.
The tentative agreement with the Major League Baseball Players Association still must be approved by team owners, a spokesman for the union said Thursday. Opening day is scheduled for April 7, a week late, and the league is expected to play a full 162-game schedule, ESPN reported.
The deal averts a potential disaster for MLB, which was already coping with the loss of TV viewers and looking for ways to speed up games that now average three hours-plus. The long contests have made baseball a tougher sell for a younger generation raised on YouTube clips.
The deal is good news for TV networks including AT&T Inc.’s WarnerMedia, Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN, Fox Corp. and Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc., which air the games.
The league is also trying to reach cord-cutters who don’t get cable TV. On Tuesday, Apple Inc. reached a deal with Major League Baseball to air Friday night games on its streaming service, marking the iPhone maker’s first major foray into sports broadcasting.
But the sport will need more ways to reverse a decline in interest from even its loyal fans. Attendance fell to 68.5 million in 2019, the lowest since at least 2006. TV viewership rebounded last year, with the World Series audience on Fox up 20% to almost 12 million viewers. Still, that was well below the recent peak of 23.4 million in 2016.
Owners locked out the players in early December after their existing labor agreement expired. The players association said salaries weren’t keeping up with revenue and sought changes to a system that the union said offered big paydays to a handful of free-agent stars but didn’t benefit many others.
On Wednesday, the league said it was canceling more games after two late-night negotiating sessions failed to result in an agreement.
—With assistance from Brian Eckhouse