• Sumo

By Ken Reed

As part of a lawsuit alleging that Major League Baseball (MLB) owners are not complying with minimum wage laws, minor league players won a victory in the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last Friday when it was ruled that the class-action suit could proceed. The appellate court’s ruling reversed a judge’s 2017 ruling.

“They (MLB owners) should be complying with those laws just like Walmart is complying with those laws,” said Garrett Broshuis, an attorney representing the minor league players.

Given the huge salaries players at the Major League level enjoy, most people have no idea how poorly compensated minor league baseball players are. From an economic perspective, the lifestyles of minor league players have very little in common with Major League players.

It’s a perfect situation for economic exploitation: powerful Major League baseball owners, operating a self-regulated monopoly, who control the minor league system and determine what to pay minor league players; a large supply of young aspiring baseball players in high school and college passionately chasing their Major League dreams; and the lack of a minor league baseball players union to protect the players’ interests.

Players starting at the lowest levels of minor league baseball make approximately $1,100/month. Players at the highest levels of the minor leagues can make close to $2200/month in their first year at that level, with slight increases thereafter. However, it’s important to note that those wages are for the regular season only, which is about six months. Players don’t get paid for spring training or any training sessions during the rest of the calendar year.

As a result, a large percentage of minor league baseball players have annual incomes that place them below the U.S. poverty line. In fact, players at the lowest levels of the minors have hourly wages that work out to little more than $4/hour, based on the typical 60-hour workweek of minor league players.

Meanwhile, revenue for Major League Baseball owners has skyrocketed during the past decade, due largely to dramatic increases in media income.

According to Statista, a statistics website, Major League Baseball’s 30 teams generated around $9.5 billion in total revenue during the 2017 season, almost twice the revenue generated ten years prior, when total revenue was closer to $5.5 billion.
MLB franchise values are also soaring. Strong revenue growth has had a major impact on the valuation of MLB franchises. In 2017, the average franchise value was estimated at $1.54 billion, a new high.

Despite this strong financial picture, owners have refused to throw minor leaguers a few bones. Minor league player salaries have remained stagnant for a decade.

Have Major League Baseball owners no shame?

Of course, that’s a rhetorical question.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans

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