Major League Baseball has struggled to attract the attention of young fans. If the lockout costs the league games, MLB could become irrelevant. Ashley Landis/Associated Press

Guess who was caught up in the excitement of this weekend’s NFL playoffs?

Virtually everyone. The nation was captivated by one of the greatest four-game series of postseason games in history. Four conference semifinals that came down to the wire, each one more thrilling than the last.

By Monday, most of the country was buzzing over a weekend of football that culminated in the Chiefs and Bills scoring 25 points in the final 1:54 of the fourth quarter.

In the aftermath of those games, the power brokers of Major League Baseball gathered in New York on Monday, meeting face-to-face for the first time since owners locked out players on Dec. 2.

Guess who was caught up in the possibility of a new collective bargaining agreement and labor peace for the sport known as America’s Pastime?

Virtually no one. Fans across the country have grown tired of the two sides bickering about salaries and protocols and just about everything else over the past two years.

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It’s a stark contrast between the two sports. Football has never been more popular. The NFL has navigated a path through the pandemic and has delivered stunning games and eye-popping ratings through it all.

Baseball spent the start of the COVID-ravaged 2020 season arguing over how to safely get back to work. Last year they made it through the season and delivered a thrilling postseason that got many casual fans to watch the game again.

Then, almost immediately, the two sides walked away from the bargaining table and didn’t talk again for more than a month.

All of this will be an afterthought if the ownership group and MLB Players Association come up with an agreement soon. Hammer out a deal this week, and spring training can start on time with baseball fans thinking about the season ahead.

Does anyone remember the 2011 NFL lockout? Does anyone hold a grudge against Tom Brady, one of 11 players who filed a class-action suit against the league that offseason?

Few people do. That’s because the league and its players were able to get a deal done, ushering a new era of unprecedented success for pro football.

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Baseball is a $10 billion industry. There is enough money to go around. The players feel they lost too much in the last agreement, and that those losses have been compounded over the past five years. Owners feel the players have some of the highest-paid guaranteed contracts in sports.

As they work out the financial details, the product on the field will remain unexamined. Which is a shame. The game has slowed to a pace that has alienated many fans, especially those in the young demographic. It’s hard to grow the sport when kids aren’t paying any attention to it.

That will be the biggest victim in all of this. The product on the field needs to be improved, but there won’t be time to get to that. Even if the two sides get a deal done quickly this week.

And if they don’t? Many fans will turn away if spring training is postponed to the point where regular-season games are lost. Perhaps more concerning are those fans who have already turned away and don’t care that the game is shut down.

Indifference is the worst thing that can happen in the entertainment industry. And if baseball wants to keep its spot in that industry it has to be ready to play ball. On time and in full.

Maybe the afterglow of this weekend’s football games will be a good thing, allowing baseball to hold its negotiations quietly. But that afterglow will only last so long. As we were reminded this weekend, fans want excitement. And the least exciting thing in the world is a professional league that isn’t playing games.

Tom Caron is a studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on NESN. His column runs on Tuesdays in the Portland Press Herald.


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