NBC sportscaster Bob Costas says he’s intrigued by the idea of reducing Major League Baseball’s regular season back to 154 games, and has a smart plan to do it without the loss in revenue that is used as an argument against shortening the season.
In 2015, MLB’s then-rookie commissioner Rob Manfred said that he was open to the idea of shortening the regular season back to 154 games. While there is precedent for a 154-game season — the league used it until the early 1960s — the biggest argument against the move 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” during the 2015 season and he explained that owners could offset 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.
Let’s call it “The Costas Plan.” Here is how it would work:
1. 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.
This makes the Wild Card round less of a crapshoot, while also giving the networks more postseason games to air.
Meanwhile, playing all three games at the home park of the top Wild Card team not only gives even more incentive to finish with a better record, but it minimizes the amount of travel and off days needed to complete the series.
Costas also explained that it gives more incentive for teams leading their division to play hard down the stretch and fight for the top seed.
“You further advantage the team (in that league) with the best record because whoever emerges [from the Wild Card series] has to have used a minimum of two starting pitchers, maybe three, [and] used up their bullpen,” said Costas. “It is also 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.”
2. Convert the division series from best of five to best of seven.
One of the downsides of the MLB playoffs is that the short series increase the likelihood of fluky results. This is especially so in the 1-game Wild Card and the best-of-5 divisional series, which don’t always go to the better team.
“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?” Costas said.
And of course, we are once again adding to the number of potential games to be aired by the networks, which will increase the value of the television packages that are sold.
3. Give the No. 1 seed an extra home game against the Wild Card team in the division series.
In the four postseasons under the current format, the Wild Card winner has beaten the No. 1 seed four out of eight tries in the divisional series, including three out of four in the NLDS. We want the Wild Card team to have a shot to make it to the League Championship Series, but it seems like their chances of advancing are too good.
Under The Costas Plan, in addition to stretching the divisional series from five games to seven, which should help the better team overcome fluky results, you can further incentivise being the top seed by giving them five home games in a seven game series.
“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),” said Costas. “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 Costas Plan would also make it much more difficult for a Wild Card team to win a divisional series on their home field since it could only happen in a 4-game sweep.
The upside is that even though the season is shortened and owners lose games, the league 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 more teams to the playoffs. At the same time, there is even more emphasis put on not only winning a division and avoiding the Wild Card spots, but there is also a huge reward both competitively and financially (i.e. more home games) for 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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