Sunflower Seeds, MLB, & COVID-19
Many of us are dealing with unprecedented times, the likes of which have not been experienced in our lives. Professional sports aren’t immune to the wrath of 2020. Major League Baseball knows all to well the havoc that’s been caused. At the time of this writing, we should be approaching the mid-summer classic, yet a single regular season game has yet to have been played.
In March we saw MLB begin to postpone games, before ultimately cancelling outright. As the league approached a restart, after concerns around Covid-19 started to mitigate, we started to see the underbelly of the beast. Cries were heard for player salaries to be slashed, owners jockeying for a new CBA on the horizon, and fans becoming more and more disenfranchised with the squabble of millionaires vs. billionaires. It’s been ugly, to say the least.
With Baseball set to return at the end of July, the players felt they have had enough. Make no mistake: there will be baseball this year. But many predict the owners treatment over one key element will lead to a work stoppage at the conclusion of the 2021 season.
Behind the scenes, the players association and a slew of lawyers and lobbyists pressuring lawmakers have been combating the owners using Covid-19 as a way to ban sunflower seeds in all MLB facilities, coming to effect once the season begins in 2020. Citing public health concerns, MLB wanted to have sunflower seeds completely removed from all facilities. However, it’s not quite that simple.
“I just don’t know what to say. I mean, this isn’t in the collective bargaining agreement. Just because these owners don’t identify with players don’t give them the right to take away our rights!” said one player, who asked to remain anonymous.
Multiple reports came from the winter meetings that the plan to remove sunflower seeds had been on the table for sometime, but never was attached to the other recommendations on baseball rule changes.
One owner reported stating: “Look. We’re only trying to attract new fans to baseball. The game doesn’t need changed, but it needs some tweaks. The spit-out shells are just part of it.”
With the CBA expiring soon, the owners were never careless enough to attack this issue head on, but when the coronavirus hit hard, the opportunity was there to be had. “I know wearing masks are important to the health of everyone, so you tell me what spitting a bunch of crap and just letting it sit on the ground is going to do? I don’t need all my players getting sick because of these damn seeds!” said one National League GM. “Besides, this has been a long time coming”.
Some owners citing long term cost adverse effects on the cleanup alone and how it has been increasing for decades. One senior director of facility services revealed that “Tobacco spit was one thing, but these.....these sunflower seeds. Something has to be done. I’d like to retire one day, not spend my waning years cleaning the damn floor from spit out shells! The players, that’s bad enough. But they’ve made “seeds” cool, so now all the fans are wanting to do it too. It all starts with the players. Gotta cut the head of the snake off.”
Some teams reported an estimated loss of revenue in the range of $65-$80 million annually due to costs associated with the cleaning and removal of sunflower seed residue from dugouts and stadium seating areas. “Why do you think concession prices are so high? It’s the seed effect.” said a former Director of Fan Experience.
Multiple notes from baseball’s winter meetings show seeds to be a big point of contention going back to 1989. Many feel it was an underlying contributor to the 1994 strike. Owners have learned over the past, that the players association isn’t above bringing in some huge industry influencers. This includes lobbyists. Data from the Department of Agriculture and the Sunflower Seeds for America advocacy group (SSA) have shown baseball to contribute up to 85% of the industry revenue revolving around the consumption of sunflower seeds.
A spokesperson from the SSA warned:
“the MLB takes up 50% of the entire market share in the US. That’s where it starts though. If the commissioner bans seeds at the MLB level, do you really thing the minors won’t follow suit? This is going to trickle down to even the youth level. I can’t even begin to imagine the loss of jobs and capital that would happen if these owners had their way.”
One former player, a retired all star, also referenced that the league “tried to link flax seed to steroids once. Flax seed, sunflower seeds.....it’s all just part of the league doing what they can to demonize it. Guilt by association”
One thing for certain is that the seeds are not banned for the abridged 2020 season. As much as I want to look to the future and forget 2020, I worry that baseball could be back on the shelf sooner rather than later. All of baseball will be anxiously waiting, hoping the new CBA can be approved without a work stoppage. The players union seems more unified than ever and the owners are prepared for a fight. At the end of the day, it’s only the fans that get spit on.