MLB’s Expanded Postseason Plan Likely To Increase Fan Interest, Grow Attendance and League Revenues

JohnWallStreet

The New York Post reported that MLB is “weighing a move from five to seven playoff teams in each league beginning in 2022.” The proposed change would see the top seed in each league awarded a bye to the Division Series, with the other two division winners and the wild-card team with the best regular season record hosting best of three series’ in the wild-card round (i.e. no more sudden death playoff series).

In another new wrinkle, MLB's expanded postseason plan would have the first round playoff matchups determined live on national television on the last Sunday of the regular season. The division winner with the second-best record in each league would have the opportunity to select their opponent from the four wild-card teams. The last division winner would then select from the remaining wild-card qualifiers. The two teams that were not chosen would be left to play head to head.

Howie Long-Short: Talk of playoff expansion is being driven by “the atmospherics surrounding certain teams not competing [to win].” One club owner said, “[adding two additional playoff spots] gives [every team] a chance to play meaningful into September and beyond [and hopefully the motivation to spend in pursuit of a playoff spot].”

Playing meaningful games late in the season should keep a greater percentage of fans engaged in the sport post-Labor Day. The owner we spoke to said it’s simply a matter of fact that “more people will attend their [local] team’s games when the club has a chance to win the World Championship.” In addition to boosting regular season attendance, “a corollary outcome of the expanded playoff format is that the league will have many more elimination games which should bring a lot of excitement [to the sport]” (see: WS Game 7’s rate +/- 60% higher than Games 1-6). Of course, having more fans in attendance, more eyeballs watching on television and more playoff inventory to sell (+10 games) will ultimately equate to more revenue.

The addition of a selection show (think: March Madness) and the suspense surrounding the first round matchups would seemingly keep MLB in the national sports media conversation throughout September and October. The owners had a chance to watch a mock selection show to get a feel for how one might play out and came away impressed. Our source said “one of the two seeds chose the team seeded sixth leaving the seventh seeded club to play the number three team. John Smoltz was the analyst breaking down the selections and the reaction around the room was ‘wow, [the debates surrounding potential matchups] could be pretty cool.” The selection show (just an hour long once/year) would not make a noticeable impact on MLB's top line.

While there is unanimous support amongst the owners for playoff expansion and the “model featuring seven teams [in each league] is the one with the most resonance”, there are still varying thoughts on how a revamped post-season should be structured. It’s certainly feasible that elements of the proposed plan will “mature” before it comes time to negotiate with the players union. Remember, the ideas being discussed are all subject to collective bargaining. No changes can be made without a new CBA being signed. The current pact will expire following the 2021 season. Assuming all goes smoothly, MLB's expanded postseason format would take effect in 2022.

There has been vocal pushback from some of the players (as one might expect with radical change), but with an expanded postseason “very likely to result in increased fan interest, more people coming to games (noteworthy with attendance down 11 million fans/season in the last 12 years) and more revenue to be shared [between the owners and players]” it feels as if change is inevitable. MLB isn’t the NFL, a few extra games isn't going to shorten careers. There’s seemingly little downside in the deal for the MLBPA.

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