By Ken Reed
Major League Baseball (MLB) owners are pushing Congress to allow them to continue paying minor league baseball players less than a McDonald’s worker or Walmart greeter.
The reality for most minor league players today is that the hot dog vendor in the stands is making more money than they are.
And MLB owners are working hard to keep it that way. They’ve paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to lobbyists who are pushing members of Congress to include language in the new omnibus bill that would exempt minor league baseball players from federal labor law, including federal minimum wage requirements. It would also exempt owners from punishment for previous violations of minimum wage, maximum hours and record-keeping requirements.
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 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 $2,200/month. 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 approximately $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 billion in total revenue during the 2016 season, almost twice the revenue generated ten years prior, when total revenue was at $5.5 billion.
MLB franchise values are also soaring. Strong revenue growth has had a large 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.
Fixing this economic injustice would hardly dent the wallets of Major League owners. Raising the wages of all minor league players to the federal minimum wage level would cost each MLB team less than $4 million. The average Major League Baseball salary is approximately $4.5 million.
Major League Baseball owners are trying to claim that minor league baseball, as we know it, would go away if they had to pony up the money to bring all minor league players up to a minimum wage salary.
Let’s look at that claim realistically. First of all, MLB owners are heavily reliant on their minor league teams to provide the talent to fill out their Major League rosters. The minor leagues aren’t going anywhere. Second, MLB owners are swimming in a large pool of media revenue.
As but one example of their media bounty, each MLB team is expected to receive $50 million in the first quarter of 2018 from MLB’s sale of BAMTech to Disney last year. BAMTech is a digital media company spun off from MLB Advanced Media.
The idea that minor league baseball in smaller communities across the country would cease to exist if Major League Baseball owners had to pay their minor leaguers a basic living wage is ridiculous.
Congress should just say “No” to exploiting young minor league baseball players.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #30 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The State of College Athletics with Dr. David Ridpath: Problems and Potential Solutions – Ridpath is a sports administration professor at Ohio University and a long-time member of The Drake Group, a college sports reform think tank.
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Episode #29 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Honorable Tom McMillen Visits League of Fans’ Sports Forum – McMillen is a former All-American basketball player, Olympian, Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Congressman. We discuss the state of college athletics today.
Episode #28 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Chat With Mano Watsa, a Leading Basketball and Life Educator – Watsa is President of PGC Basketball, the largest education basketball camp in the world. We discuss problems in youth sports today.
Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
Episode #26 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Fix Youth Sports? – John O’Sullivan is Founder and CEO of Changing the Game Project and author of “Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids.”
Episode #25 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Physical Education Should Be a Critical Component of K-12 School Design – Michael Horn is co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- Reed Appears on Ralph Nader Radio Hour League of Fans’ sports policy director, Ken Reed, Ralph Nader and the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner discussed a variety of sports issues on Nader’s radio show as well as Reed’s updated book, How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. Reed's book was released in paperback in February, and has a new introduction and several updated sections.
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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