Wildcard game could be MLB’s last as playoff expansion looms

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Baseball anxiety is at its height in California as one of the top two baseball teams this season, the Los Angeles Dodgers or the Giants of San Francisco, each with over 100 wins, will be forced into a playoff game against a team with around 14 wins less. Back in New York, MLB headquarters and the networks are bubbling with excitement at the idea of ​​a play-in between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox for the first time since Bucky Dent’s home run in 1978. Fans should take advantage of the wildcard format for one game while they can, as it is likely to become a thing of the past by next season.

MLB owners’ dearest wish in a new collective agreement is to increase the number of playoff teams, create more playoff games and a lot more revenue. Their desires are likely to come true, as players have no real objections to extending the playoffs, as long as their share of the earnings increases through other channels such as minimum wage, adjustment of tax thresholds and modification of arbitration or eligibility criteria for free agencies. The extended playoffs are too valuable a bargaining chip for players not to cash in.

MLB owners have made no secret of their desire to extend the playoffs. Last season, they negotiated a 16-team format in 2020 even as the length of the regular season was reduced by more than 100 games. They also offered an expanded playoffs in 2021 in exchange for the adoption of the designated hitter rule in both leagues, although that never materialized. It will take a lot more than just universal DH to get players to agree to post-season expansion, as players have a much longer wishlist that they would like to see in the next collective agreement. (CBA), which must be chopped before the 2022 season.

Why? Follow the money!

Despite objections from Giants and Dodgers fans, the new format has nothing to do with fairness. Instead, follow the money. MLB has negotiated new seven-year television contracts with Fox and Turner Broadcasting (TBS / TNT) that will bring in $ 8.3 billion, a 40% increase over previous contracts, mostly for the right to broadcast television. playoff games.

ESPN plans to cut coverage from 90 to 100 regular season games to 30 to 40 games per season and cut annual payout to MLB by $ 150 million, unless they can win other playoff games. playoffs. When the regular season was reduced to 60 games in 2020, it was networks owned by Disney, ABC and ESPN that stepped in and led the expanded playoff series.

MLB National Television Recipes

Network 2014-2021 2022 – 2028 Total contract
Network 2014-2021 2022 – 2028 Total contract
TBS $ 325 million $ 535 million $ 3.75 billion
Fox $ 525 million $ 729 million $ 5.1 billion
ESPN $ 700 million $ 550 million * $ 3.85 billion
Total $ 1.55 billion $ 1.814 billion $ 12.7 billion
* offers

Regular season games are not the huge source of money nationally for networks. Playoff games provide the kind of odds that national networks are looking for. However, regular season games are highly regarded by regional sports networks as we have seen the revenues skyrocket for every team in the MLB over the past decades. Other networks have not been interested in resuming ESPN’s abandoned regular season games, but MLB is negotiating deals with streaming services such as the $ 300 million deal signed with DAZN. This game inventory can be monetized other than with national television networks.

What will the new playoff format look like?

When the playoffs are extended, the format is likely to include three-game series hosted entirely by the division winners or by the top-ranked wildcard team or teams, while one or two teams with the best records in each league have a brief first round. goodbye before welcoming the next round. The firing caused by a bye is something MLB has tried to avoid, but the money will fix that.

Various formats have been offered, ranging from a 12-team playoff to the 14-team proposed by MLB owners ahead of the current season. I would initially suggest 12 teams, adding two more if and when MLB adds two expansion teams. This is something else that seems inevitable as the MLB really wants to expand to 32 teams with four divisions in each league, like the National Football League.

Playoff Extension Winners and Losers

The qualifying threshold for the postseason game has fallen since 1968, when the Detroit Tigers were the last team to win a World events by winning the pennant and advancing directly to the World Series. Ten times in history, teams have won over 100 games and failed to even advance to the playoffs. The 1961 Tigers won 101 games led by batting champion Norm Cash’s 0.361 average, but finished eight games behind the Yankees and Roger Maris’ 61 homers. These days, it’s not uncommon for a team barely above .500 to qualify for the playoffs.

The players’ association is said to be concerned that the expanded playoffs would result in less spending for teams during the offseason as fewer wins would be needed to qualify. But teams that are on the bubble, but not quite up to current wild card standards (2022 Detroit Tigers?), Should benefit from playing in October or at least playing more meaningful games in September. And players on those added post-season rosters will also be paid in post-season shares.

So the stage is set for what could be the last wild card game for elimination of a game in the games. The Dodgers may have to beat the Cardinals to face the Giants in the first round of the playoffs, while the Yankees and Red Sox (if they get past Toronto) will have to face each other to qualify for the ‘real’ playoffs, against the Tampa Bay Rays. Enjoy as it lasts.


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