The MLBPA Has a New Chief Negotiator

The biggest legal news to come out of Major League Baseball last week was the hiring of attorney Bruce Meyer as the union’s new “Senior Director of Collective Bargaining and Legal.” In other words, Meyer is the MLBPA’s new chief negotiator with Major League Baseball.

Why is Meyer a big deal? First, because he quite literally wrote the book on sports law. But Meyer is far more than an academic and author (though that would be impressive enough in terms of credentials). Meyer, a partner at Weil, Gotshal, and Manges LLP, is a trained trial lawyer with more than 30 years of experience in contested litigation. But it’s the nature of those cases that is relevant here. From Meyer’s biography at the Practicing Law Institute:

Mr. Meyer has extensive jury trial experience, having tried lengthy and complex cases to juries in locales across the country, including New York, Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, Western Massachusetts, Boston, and Texas.

[…]

Among other notable victories, Mr. Meyer: successfully defended Westinghouse in a major products liability action, resulting in a defendant’s jury verdict after a three-month trial; struck down the NFL’s free agency restrictions after a three-month antitrust jury trial; prevailed in a complex six week reinsurance arbitration for Life Re; achieved a complete defense verdict for Procter & Gamble after a three-week jury trial; and achieved a complete defense verdict in a $70 million preference action against Prudential. Recently, he obtained punitive damages after trial in a trade secret case, obtained a mandatory preliminary injunction for Vivendi in a high-profile case involving the launch of a major music television channel, obtained summary judgment for GlaxoSmithKline dismissing all claims in a suit alleging trademark, false advertising and trade secret violations, won bench trials for eBay and XM Satellite Radio, and prevailed in arbitrations for Rolls Royce and for PAI Partners, a leading French private equity firm.

In other words, Meyer is, by just about any metric, on the short list of the best trial lawyers in the United States and very likely the world — and he has experience turning around labor disputes for unions. In 2016, the National Hockey League’s union hired him to handle their legal matters in the midst of ongoing litigation and disputes with the League. Before that, Meyer was the first to win free-agency rights for players in the NBA, then beat the NFL’s free-agency restrictions in McNeil v. NFL. In other words, Meyer is the only trial lawyer on the planet to have won the right of free agency for two of the four major North American sports.

So he makes a lot of sense for the MLBPA at its current crossroads. The current collective bargaining agreement is, to put it lightly, not popular among MLBPA members, particularly after it contributed to the slowest offseason ever. Rob Manfred, MLB commissioner, is a labor lawyer. Tony Clark, head of the MLBPA, is not. And while that might not be a problem in and of itself — a collective bargaining agreement is a massive undertaking with lots of lawyers involved on both sides — there’s no doubting that the addition of Meyer represents a shift in the union’s approach. If the labor negotiations between MLB and the MLBPA are a knife fight, Meyer is the gun.

That’s not to say Meyer is bulletproof; nobody this side of Clarence Darrow is undefeated in the legal world. In this line of work, there’s a saying: “Show me a lawyer who’s never lost a case, and I’ll show you a lawyer who’s never tried a case.” Meyer is no exception. And he didn’t exactly improve labor relations during his stint with the NHL; in particular, the Olympics remained a hotly disputed issue there. (Besides, you don’t hire a litigator to make friends — you hire a litigator to win cases and improve your rights.)

Of course, Meyer arrived at the NHL after their CBA had already been finalized in 2013. But Meyer also had a trump card in his cases against the NBA and NFL that he doesn’t have with MLB: the Sherman Antitrust Act that he can’t use in MLB thanks to baseball’s much maligned but still extant antitrust exemption. (EDIT: Theoretically, Meyer could get around the antitrust problem by dissolving the union, as Nathaniel Grow discussed here, but I doubt very much based on his record that he’d consider that as anything other than a last resort.)

Nevertheless, Meyer is far more than a one-trick pony. Even 10 years ago, he was already shifting his practice towards frontiers in sports law beyond antitrust, as he relates in this interview with Corporate Counsel Business Journal which is well worth your time. An excerpt from that same interview:

[T]he nature of the practice has shifted away from antitrust. For many years the practice was concerned with establishing the rights of players to pick where they wanted to play. That trend culminated with the FreemanMcNeil trial, the first and only jury trial on the antitrust merits of sports league restrictions on players. Having established the basic principle of free agency, today we are focused more on the IP and licensing aspects of the business.

Players in all professional sports have IP rights worth an extraordinary amount of money. We do a great deal of work with the players on their rights of publicity. Our practice today has a particular focus on protecting these rights and, when necessary, litigating over them.

If there’s anyone who can maximize the players’ rights over their intellectual property, it’s Meyer. The amount of leverage that would give the MLBPA is massive, considering just what a right of publicity entails. MLB can’t market itself without its players; that’s because, absent a player contract (or a CBA) stating otherwise, legally each player owns his own likeness. So imagine what would happen during CBA negotiations if the players took a hard line on that intellectual property. And that’s just one example – Meyer is among the best intellectual-property litigators in the world, and has the ability to open revenue streams the union didn’t know it had.

This isn’t to say that there necessarily will be unrest during the next round of CBA negotiations, or before then. But after MLB and the MLBPA traded barbs over team spending and player uniforms this season, this is the first tangible step the union has taken to show its players it has no intention of repeating the mistakes of the past. But all of that said, Meyer’s hiring can’t be considered as anything other than a home run for the union here. Meyer is a self-described “player advocate” and the objective best in the business. Whatever the next CBA looks like, the MLBPA can say it won’t be for lack of trying.

We hoped you liked reading The MLBPA Has a New Chief Negotiator by Sheryl Ring!

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Sheryl Ring is an attorney and General Counsel at Open Communities, a non-profit in the Chicago suburbs. You can reach her on twitter at @Ring_Sheryl. The opinions expressed here are solely the author's. This post is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice.

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HappyFunBall
Member
HappyFunBall

He’s just there to argue about players owning the rights to their own tattoos …

Yeah, and we should probably get ready for a work stoppage. The MLBPA didn’t hire him to get a better post-game buffet.

Shalesh
Member
Shalesh

Nah, no work stoppage. Either side would be idiotic to stop the $9.5B (2017 revenues) gravy train. The owners and players seem to have settled on a 50/50 revenue share that has been interrupted by owners finally seeing the stupidity of give $10’s of millions to 30+ year-old players. So the next CBA negotiations will involve the owners making concessions (increase to $1M minimum salary, compromise to avoid gaming the service time of rookies, etc.) to keep the 50/50 revenue split. (Not sure how much money there is in Mike Trout ties, bed sheets, and dinnerware, but hey Bruce Meyer, go nuts!)

Not sure why Fangraphs’ writers keep cheerleading on the Players’ behalf. I view the negotiations between the two parties more like an interesting economic problem than some social justice issue. I also don’t understand the Fangraphs’ reader base’s 1995-era view that more revenue sharing amongst the teams would lead to more parity, since more teams could then buy more FA’s. With a few exceptions, FA’s are terrible! Even the Fangraphs writers (after a winter of yelling “Collusion!”) seem to have thrown in the towel on Free Agency as a viable team-building strategy.

vslyke
Member

You can use additional revenue for all sorts of things other than signing FAs: you can extend your young players, beef up your analytics or scouting staff, or spend more on Cuban or Japanese players.

kevinthecomic
Member
Member
kevinthecomic

The main reason that FA signings are terrible is because most players don’t reach free agency until age 30 or later. Perhaps Mssr. Meyer has been brought in to get that number lowered and/or eliminated in which case FA signings will be both quite lucrative and quite valuable.

Shalesh
Member
Shalesh

The point of the next CBA is to get the players back to 50/50, not to make everyone a FA every year. This requires only minor tweaks not a major re-working of the agreement. That’s why posing Bruce Meyer’s hiring as some major event is silly.

Every team in baseball except the A’s and Rays can extend their younger players and the A’s/Rays can trade the ones they would have liked to extend for more prospects. The cost of scouting staff and signing foreign amateurs is a rounding error on the Hosmer/Cobb/Davis contracts. Just avoid those.

Nivra
Member
Nivra

50/50 is a long way off isn’t it? IIRC, the last time I heard numbers, it had dropped to the mid-30% range due to the luxury cap and the boom on revenues.

Shalesh
Member
Shalesh

Scroll down to the table in this Ringer article (https://www.theringer.com/mlb/2018/2/21/17035624/mlb-revenue-sharing-owners-players-free-agency-rob-manfred). The figures are provided by MLB and conclude that the Players (including player benefits) comprise about 56% of revenues (MLB players 50% and minors leaguers 6%. “An MLBPA spokesman?—?after running the numbers by the union’s economists?—?confirmed that they’re ‘basically accurate.'”

Meanwhile, average player salary has exploded from $3.69M in 2014 to $4.52M in 2018 (https://www.statista.com/statistics/236213/mean-salaray-of-players-in-majpr-league-baseball/). Thank you, Owners, for MLBAM and other marketing that have grown the revenue base!

Shalesh
Member
Shalesh

MLB Players have a 50% revenue share, Minor Leaguers get an additional 6%. These are from Ben Lindbergh’s article in The Ringer from February 21, 2018 entitled “Baseball Economics Aren’t As Skewed As They Seem.” (I posted the link in another comment but Fangraphs’ moderator is reviewing my comment.)

MLB average salary has exploded from $3.69M to $4.52M since 2014. (I posted a link from Statista in my comment that’s being reviewed.) Owners deserve credit for exploding MLB revenues through MLBAM and other marketing so players could make more.

*When I say “get back to 50/50”, I’m assuming Players “lost” $250M (a round, generous number) in expected salary in the 2017-2018 FA which equals about 2.65% of total MLB revenue and it’s this 2.65% that the Players want to win back in the next CBA (and perhaps a bit more for the losses until then).

bosoxforlife
Member
Member
bosoxforlife

Don’t just complain that most FA’s are past their prime when the are eligible, offer a solution. I don’t have an answer and would like to hear some ideas but I am not optimistic. i cannot see teams willingly shortening their period of control without some major concessions from the MLBPA and I don’t see the union accepting a salary cap or even the status quo. The union is seething under the existing soft cap and what it perceives as service time manipulation. Much has been made of the weak off-season but how have those FA signings worked out. Let us start at awful and work down, Darvish, Hosmer, Cobb, Bruce, Holland, Lynn, Carlos Santana, Frazier, and the recent past isn’t any better. On the plus side it looks like it is J.D. Martinez, Lorenzo Cain, even though that has years to run and can still collapse and maybe Jake Arrieta. The next CBA is going to be very contentious but both sides must see that there has to be compromise, but from which side, or catastrophe. Is it realistic to expect a team to find and develop great young players, being forced to bring them up at 20 especially if the teams are not allowed to control service time, then lose them at age 24 or 25, before they even get close to their prime? I just can’t see that happening and if the MLBPA is adamant then a work stoppage seems all too possible.

Fillmore
Member
Member
Fillmore

Which Fangraphs writer(s) “shouted collusion”? My memory is that only a few irate commenters did so (on seemingly every article during the offseason) and they were swiftly shut down. The writers had no part in those conspiracy theories.

Shalesh
Member
Shalesh

Craig, Travis, Meg, Sheryl and Nathaniel Grow were writing “collusion” on a twice weekly basis over the winter. The actual performance of said FA’s and updated and accurate numbers of players’ revenue share since seems to have stopped them.