Does anybody remember the score of last year’s midsummer classic? COVID-19, MLB-0. Despite the NHL, the NBA, and the NFL adjusting and having some resemblance of normal seasons, MLB gave an abbreviated season, with expanded playoffs, no All-Star game, and no minor league seasons.
The last All-Star game was in 2019, in Cleveland, where the AL topped the NL 4-3. The 2020 AL Cy Young award winner Shane Bieber was named the MVP. The All-Star game honored cancer survivors, including a tribute to then-Cleveland pitcher Carlos Carrasco. The City of Cleveland was highlighted and praised for how well they handled the All-Star events.
Coming into 2021, MLB surely is looking at the July 2021 All-Star game as a chance to shine a good light on the game, the players, and the venue where the All-Star game takes place. Then MLB ran into a problem. The Atlanta Braves’ new home, Truist Park, is in the state of Georgia.
Recently the Georgia state legislators enacted new state voting laws. The laws are praised by some to bring voting integrity. Others, including President Joe Biden, have likened the new laws to Jim Crow. These laws have led some Georgia-based businesses, including Coca-Cola and Delta to condemn the laws with the Delta CEO saying, “The entire rationale for this bill was based on a lie.”
Eight days after Georgia enacted the new laws, MLB announced the All-Star game—and the Amateur draft—will be moved to a different, undetermined city.
In a statement, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said, “I have decided that the best way to demonstrate our values as a sport is by relocating this year’s All-Star game.” He added, “Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box.”
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp said in a statement, “Major League Baseball caved to fear, political opportunism and liberal lies. Georgians – and all Americans – should fully understand what MLB’s knee-jerk decision means: cancel culture and woke political activists are coming for every aspect of your life, sports included.”
To the credit of MLB, they will continue to support the community with the All-Star Legacy Project. MLB will also honor the late Hank Aaron, as they had planned.
Does MLB deserve praise for its political position? Scorn for giving in to political pressure?
Nope. This decision wasn’t political.
It may appear that way, but politics had only a small part to play with this decision. Like most things around the business of baseball, it was capitalism that cost Georgia the All-Star game. Add that in with some outright terrible timing by Georgia.
Last year, George Floyd, an African American man, was killed during an arrest. As many people watched and recorded, an officer knelt on his neck for over nine minutes. This led to a large Black Lives Matter movement during the months following. Many businesses, including MLB, proclaimed support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
In MLB, this led to The Players Alliance, a group of current and former MLB players focused on social issues. Commissioner Manfred cited this group as somebody he talked to when making his decision. The Players Association wanted to discuss the possibility of moving the game, but the game was moved even before the union could vote on the matter. Yes, this decision was made with only minor input from the players. This, certainly, was more of a business decision.
The new laws in Georgia forced the hands of businesses that supported the Black Lives Matter movement last year. It was time to put up or shut up. While over 150 businesses have condemned the law, MLB was the first one to put any real economic pain behind that condemnation. But as Atlanta Mayor Kieshah Lance Bottoms predicts, this is “likely the first of many dominoes to fall, until the unnecessary barriers put in place to restrict access to the ballot box are removed.”
MLB has to worry about how their sponsors are approaching the political hot potato Georgia has passed around. Corporations in Georgia are feeling the heat to comment on the law from both sides of the political aisle. Companies that felt relatively safe could, with the association of MLB and the All-Star game, be pulled into having to comment. Despite political leanings, it is fair to say that companies would prefer to avoid the situation and have told MLB this. Removing sponsorship to a game in Georgia would be easily justifiable and an overall smart strategy.
Beyond the added pressure of deciding to stand behind your support of the Black Lives Movement when racially charged laws are being questioned, there is the issue of the trial related to George Floyd’s death.
There is a powder keg waiting in Minneapolis. The verdict most certainly will bolster the BLM movement, either validating the protests or leading to further cries of injustice. Either way, having an All-Star game in Georgia is too much of a risk for most corporation’s marketing teams. This, I am sure, triggered the corporation sponsorship issues cited in Manford’s statement.
The game was moved, mainly, because of the bottom line. It certainly was going to cost MLB and companies involved with the events money. The best way to reduce that cost was to move the game while still supporting the community and saluting Hank Aaron. I guess that MLB will try to move the game to Milwaukee.
While I applauded MLB for making the decision and there certainly is political motivation behind it, in the words of Deep Throat: “follow the money.” The potential cost, given the importance of the All-Star game this year, forced MLB’s hand.
While Major League Baseball can usually weather keeping politics out of baseball, they can’t keep business out of baseball.