What are MLB fans in for? Here's every major American sports work stoppage since 1994

·6 min read

MLB owners locked out the players on Wednesday night, creating MLB's first work stoppage since the famous 1994-95 strike. It's been almost 27 years since there's been this much labor disharmony in baseball, but the other three major sports leagues (NFL, NBA, NHL) have seen their fair share in that time. 

As we all buckle down for what's likely to be a lengthy negotiation process between MLB and the MLB Players Association, here's a look at how work stoppages have gone in the other major American men's sports since 1994.

NHL, October 1994 to January 1995 (103 days)

Lockout or strike? Lockout
Games missed? 438 total games
What was at stake? In an echo of MLB battles, NHL owners were clamoring for a salary cap and/or a luxury tax to limit what they considered to be rising salaries, which the players very much did not want. The NHLPA was not fooled by commissioner Gary Bettman, who had taken the job in 1993, calling it a "tax plan" instead of a salary cap. 

The owners imposed a deadline for when the entire season would have to be canceled, which ended up backfiring on them. The NHLPA stood strong and refused to budge on their position, and as that deadline loomed, several big-market teams began to worry that they could be the first league in the history of North American sports to lose an entire season to a work stoppage. (Which they would a number of years later.) The owners eventually relented, signing a CBA with no salary cap and no luxury tax. 

NBA, July 1995 to September 1995 (80 days)

Lockout or strike? Lockout, the NBA's first
Games missed? None — lockout happened during the offseason
What was at stake? A lot. The lockout was just one prong of an ongoing labor issue between NBA players and the National Basketball Players Association. A collective bargaining agreement had been reached between the NBA and the NBPA, but it included a luxury tax on top of a payroll cap, which the players didn't want. At the same time the CBA was being rejected, a group of 17 players — with the support of their agents, who had gotten involved in as well — petitioned the National Labor Relations Board to decertify the union.

The push to decertify the union didn't work. A new deal was struck, which included a bump in minimum salary for the players, but also a tightening of salary cap loopholes and a rookie wage scale, which were owner demands. 

NBA, July 10, 1996 (2-3 hours)

Lockout or strike? Lockout
Games missed? None
What was at stake? The players and owners were unable to agree on how to split $50 million in TV revenue. The players wanted a bigger share to be devoted to salaries, which they eventually got. It still counts as a work stoppage, even though it happened during the offseason and lasted less than half a workday. 

NBA, July 1998 to January 1999 (204 days)

Lockout or strike? Lockout
Games missed? 494
What was at stake? The owners were very unhappy about the rise in player salaries, so they used a clause in the 1995 CBA to reopen negotiations. While some salary cap loopholes had been tightened, the Larry Bird exception was frustrating owners, as was a provision that allowed second-year players to sign huge contract extensions.

Negotiations between the NBPA and commissioner David Stern were frequently hostile, and there was significant splintering within the NBPA. The issues on the table affected higher-paid players the most, which is a small percentage of the union's overall membership. The majority of players were tired of the lockout and ready to go back to work, which they did after signing an owner-friendly CBA that limited player salaries, expanded drug testing, and introduced a rookie pay scale.

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 1:  Hockey fans protest the National Hockey League (NHL) lockout outside the NHL offices in midtown Manhattan December 1, 2012 in New York City.  The NHL and the NHL Players' Association have been at a stalemate in brokering a new collective bargaining agreement leaving teams locked out for over 75 days.  (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)
Hockey fans have suffered through seversl work stoppages since MLB's last labor strife. Some fans protested the NHL league office in December 2012. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

NHL, September 2004 to July 2006 (310 days)

Lockout or strike? Lockout
Games missed? 1,230 — first North American sports league to lose an entire season to a labor dispute
What was at stake? Player salaries and the salary cap were at issue yet again, with owners frustrated that they were spending over 75 percent of their revenue on player salaries. They wanted a salary cap and the union wouldn't accept one, so the lockout commenced.

While the last lockout ended midseason with a CBA that favored the players, this time was different. The NHL is still the only North American sports league to lose an entire season to a labor dispute, and the length of the lockout worked against the players. The deal they signed was a victory for the owners, who finally got what they wanted: a salary cap (which was adjustable), a limit on how much revenue can be used on player salaries, immediate salary cuts, new rules for free agency, arbitration and a drug testing policy.

NFL, March 2011 to July 2011 (132 days)

Lockout or strike? Lockout
Games missed? One — the Pro Football Hall of Fame game, which is played in the preseason
What was at stake? The owners sought a higher share of revenue (and a lower share for the players), as well as other money-related items like an 18-game season. The players were fighting for things we now consider to be basic. They ended up winning an increase in minimum salaries, an additional $1 billion for retired players, the opportunity to stay in the players' health insurance plan for life, a salary floor, increased safety protocols and the continuation of the 16-game season (which lasted until 2021).

While the lockout took place entirely during the offseason, there was a lot of palace intrigue. A judge ruled that the owners had been plotting for two years to lock the players out. The players voted unanimously to renounce their collective bargaining rights and decertify their union, which made it possible for them to file an antitrust suit against the league. Ten players — including Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning — did just that. Players even went to Capitol Hill to lobby members of congress, who said they'd consider intervening if the lockout wore on.

NBA, July 2011 to December 2011 (161 days)

Lockout or strike? Lockout
Games missed? 480
What was at stake? The owners wanted to reduce the players' share of revenue, and impose a hard salary cap and a more severe luxury tax. The players obviously didn't want that. They dissolved the union in November, which exposed the owners to antitrust lawsuits from individual players. A tentative agreement was reached two weeks later, which did reduce the players' share of the revenue, but the percentage they got was equal to the owners. The Larry Bird exception was again tightened, and contract length for max extensions was reduced from five to four years.

NHL, September 2012 to January 2013 (119 days)

Lockout or strike? Lockout
Games missed? 510
What was at stake? Same as it ever was: player revenue and salaries. The owners wanted to limit salaries and reduce the share of player revenue by over 10 percent, end signing bonuses, standardize the structure of player contracts, lower the salary cap and realign the league. Of course, the players didn't want any of that. In the end, they reached a middle ground on the salary cap, kicked realignment down the road, and established standards and limits on long contract. 

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