Last week, Joel Sherman of The New York Post reported on MLB’s new playoff expansion concept. The proposal would expand the field from five to seven teams in each league, give the top American League and National League division winners a first-round bye and allow the second-best division winner to pick their first-round opponents in a prime-time selection show.
The plan, which could go into effect as early as 2022, received a polarizing response from both fans and players. Many are in favor of more teams in the playoffs, while others, including Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Didi Gregorius, are uncomfortable with the idea of the best teams sitting out the first few games of the playoffs.
“I [don’t] 100 percent agree with it,” Gregorius said on MLB Network Radio’s Inside Pitch. “For me, it doesn’t start at the playoffs because there are 162 games before.”
“The [top] team that won their division are sitting out for four of five days and then you get to play again against a team that is coming in red hot. Everything changes.”
MLB hopes this new playoff proposal if approved by the MLBPA, attracts more fans to the game as more teams become incentivized to win with the playoff field increasing by 40 percent. Plenty of folks around baseball have offered their take on how to grow the game by attracting younger fans. Gregorius’ plan is simple: lower the cost for a family to attend a game and scale back on blackout restrictions.
“For me, I think lowering the price and getting rid of the blackout restrictions [would bring more interest]. You want to get kids involved. You want them to see the game too.”
“If you want them to see the game and watch the game all the time and stay involved in the game, I think they [MLB] should let them see the game on every channel they can and as much as possible.”
MLB allows fans to stream out-of-market games through its streaming service MLB.TV. All games within a team’s local television market are subject to blackouts. Fans who live in Philadelphia cannot stream Phillies games through MLB.TV and must purchase a cable or streaming package that includes NBC Sports Philadelphia to watch locally broadcast games legally at home.
Phillies fans who live in Scranton, for example, are subject to blackout restrictions for four teams; the New York Mets, New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Pirates and Phillies. Some U.S. residents are subjected to up to six blackout restrictions. Iowans, even though they don’t have an MLB team in the state, are unable to stream games for the St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals.Embed from Getty Images
All four major sports leagues in North America have some blackout restrictions, but many are calling for MLB to lift their restriction in order to be more accessible to cord-cutting audiences. There were talks during the owner’s meeting in the offseason to revise the restrictions. According to commissioner Rob Manfred, teams had “approved unanimously a revised interactive media rights agreement.”
When asked to clarify his comments, Manfred said, “The biggest single change was the return of certain in-market digital rights — the rights that have essentially become substitutional with broadcast rights — those rights will return to the clubs.” Whether that means fans will be able to stream in-market this upcoming season will remain to be seen.
As far as the cost of attendance goes, the Fan Cost Index, which measures the average cost for a family of four attending a major league game, averaged at $234.38 league-wide in 2019. The Phillies ranked 10th at $250.16. The Cubs earned the distinction of having the priciest gameday experience at $370.12 while the Diamondbacks finished last for the eleventh consecutive season at $142.42.
The Fan Cost Index takes into account the cost of merchandise, parking and concessions, which does not apply to every family attending a game. Nonetheless, with viewership and attendance decreasing and cost of attendance reaching astronomical levels, it may be a good idea for MLB to consider Gregorius’ advice.
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