FORT MYERS, Fla. — The fate of Major League Baseball's spring training season hangs in the balance, and that has small business owners worried about the future.
MLB remains in a lockout, with major negotiations going on between the leagues' team owners and the union that represents the players.
A contract needs to be signed before Feb. 26, when spring training is scheduled to begin.
The league and the players are currently discussing how their collective bargaining agreement will look in the coming seasons. In other words, they need to agree on the legal paperwork that regulates how money is distributed among players, the team owners, and the league itself.
The players want to see a few major changes. They want to improve the amount of money that players make in the first three years of their career in the MLB. They also want to prevent teams from "tanking," or losing on purpose in order to get better draft picks. They also want an end to "Service time manipulation." That is a loophole that makes it difficult for players to move up from the minors.
Owners don't agree to those terms and have a list of demands of their own. They want longer post-seasons and a couple of minor regulatory changes. Overall they aren't as willing to move when it comes to talking about boosting salaries with the players.
The MLB still doesn't have an agreement in place but league officials, team owners, and players union representatives all plan to meet Saturday in Orlando. The commissioner of the league says he is dedicated to coming to a resolution.
Southwest Florida business owners and communities depend on the business spring training brings in and are watching developments closely.
Four teams make their home in the region in the months leading up to the season: Atlanta Braves in North Port; Tampa Bay Rays in Port Charlotte, and the Minnesota Twins and Boston Red Sox set up shop in Fort Myers every spring.
A study published in 2018 estimated that Lee County alone took in $69 million from visitors who came to see the Twins and Sox at spring training. This includes $12.1 million spent inside the ballpark and $56.7 million spent outside the park in other areas of the county, including food and lodging.
The Florida Sports Foundation says that since the year 2000, spring training has brought 31 million fans to the area to see their favorite teams play. That tourism generates a combined $687 million per year in spending and creates about 7,000 jobs per year.
This is the fourth lockout for Major League Baseball. The previous labor disagreements did not result in any stoppages to regular-season play.