NBC sportscaster Bob Costas says he’s intrigued by the idea reducing Major League Baseball’s regular season back to 154 games, and has a smart plan on how to do it without costing the owners money.
MLB’s rookie commissioner Rob Manfred recently said that he is open to the idea of shortening the regular season back to 154 games. While there is precedence for a 154-game season — MLB used it until the early 1960s — the downside is that owners would lose revenue by having four fewer home games each season and eight fewer games to broadcast on local networks.
Let’s face it, even if owners want to improve their game by giving players extra rest days during the season, owners don’t want to lose revenue streams, especially when the players are unlikely to agree to a 5% pay cut to counter the 5% loss in ticket sales and local television contracts.
Costas was a guest on MLB Network’s “High Heat” and he explained that owners could counter the loss of regular season revenue by increasing the number of postseason games and doing it in a way that also increases interest in the early rounds.
Here is how it would work:
- Convert the Wild Card round from a one-game playoff to a best-of-three series with all three games played at the home of the team with the better record — “You further advantage the team (in that league) with the best record because whoever emerges has to have used a minimum of two starting pitchers, maybe three, used up their bullpen, and it is enough time to get your own pitching in order if you had to go to the wire to clinch your division, but not nearly enough time to get rusty.”
- Convert the division series from best-of-five to best-of-seven games — “What sense does it make to have the one series that is best-of-five be the one that involves the Wild Card and the third-best of the three division winners, therefore increasing the possibility of a fluke result?”
- Give the No. 1 seed an extra home game against the Wild Card team in the division series — “When the [No. 2 seed and No. 3 seed] play each other, you just go 2-3-2 (games 1, 2, 6, and 7 at the home of the higher seed, games 3-5 at the home of the lower seed), same as normal. But, when the Wild Card winner plays the team with the best record, you go 2-2-3 (games 1, 2, 5, 6, and 7 at the home of the higher seed, games 3 and 4 at the home of the lower seed). Now you have really advantaged the team that finished first. You have put the team that comes out of the Wild Card at a disadvantage, not insurmountable, but a significant disadvantage.”
The upside is that even though the season is shortened and owners lose games, MLB would actually be adding what Costas calls “more high-end product.”
The number of potential postseason games would increase 28%, from 43 to 55, and the minimum number would increase 23%, from 26 to 32. That would represent a significant increase in the value of MLB’s postseason broadcast package.
Increasing the length of the postseason could also potentially increase interest as storylines develop without watering down the product by adding to the number of teams. At the same time, there is even more emphasis put on not only winning a division but grabbing the top seed.
The downside is that cumulative season-long records (e.g. Barry Bonds’ 73 home runs in 2001) would be much more difficult to break. However, Costas counters this by arguing that nobody is going to break Bonds’ record without steroids anyway.
In other words, there isn’t much downside at all.
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