Professional sports have evolved with the digital age, and two things have become most relevant for viewers.
1 – Viewers tune in for the playoffs, but don’t watch the regular season
2 – Real Estate is key, meaning, how much viewership you gain relies on how many other sporting events are going on simultaneous with yours.
This means it’s time to pick on baseball, and the incredibly long, mundane, drawn out season.
Let’s first address what is working for the sport. Regionally, baseball has never been better, and revenues are strong. Postseason viewership is expanding, which is due to a renaissance in storied franchises. For example, two years with the Dodgers, a year with the Red Sox, and a year with the Cubs has helped. Finally, baseball has a good competitive balance, bringing a diverse and ever-changing batch of teams to the playoffs, sparking interest in most markets.
Enough of the good stuff. Let’s talk about what baseball does wrong. The easiest thing to pick on is the length of their season, and in particular the early April start, and extension into very early November. Weather plays a key role. At both ends of the spectrum, the weather is typically cold – with the games played in LA last year during the World Series being the exception.
The other part is sports leagues must cater to children, and school is solidly in session at the beginning part of their season, as well as the playoffs. This is problematic, because it becomes difficult to take children to the game, and simply watch it.
How can this be fixed? Emphasis on the season, and predominately the playoff timing. Let’s focus on the real estate statement made at the beginning of this piece. What else is going on during the World Series? Literally, everything. Premier League and MLS Soccer, NHL, NBA, NFL, NCAA Football are all happening during the most important moment in the baseball season. Why do they try to compete? It is like NHL playoffs going on at the same time as the NBA playoffs, but at least the NHL has made concessions as of late and tried to not directly compete for viewers. Baseball has a playoff timing problem.
What do they do to fix it? Shorten the season, have the playoffs during minimal to no school, better weather, and no direct competition. Baseball also needs to expand their playoffs. The amount of teams they have in the their postseason is silly and outdated. Why expand the playoffs? Simple. More teams equal more interest. Don’t punish the good teams by allowing bad teams in, though. How to do that? Provide home field advantage, shorten the travel days, and make it very difficult for the lower seeded team early in the playoffs to beat the higher seed to avoid an astronomical upset. This is easily done with ensuring the higher seeded team has a well-rested, and ready to go pitching rotation.
We talked about what baseball will do, but how does this all work?
Timing is everything, and the sad part of a long, drawn out season is that teams will face each other at totally different moments making it relatively unfair. How can this be fixed? Stagger the teams along with their divisional foes. Make most of the AL East playing the AL Central at the same time. Also, decrease interleague to just six games with your true rival. Dodgers vs Angels. Giants vs Athletics, and down the line. Pair a random team like Arizona that has no natural rival, with an AL foe in a similar boat. They can play Houston or Texas now that they’re both AL. Overtime, a rivalry will ensue. Develop it.
How does the season shorten further? A three-game home and away series with each team outside of your division, but in your league, equals sixty-games. Add that with six more for interleague and you’re at sixty-six. This leaves us with divisional games. Twelve each (two three-game home series, and two three-game away series) adds forty-eight more and totals 114 games. This will take off two-months.
The season starts at the end of April to dodge cold weather in Midwest and East. That leaves roughly five extra weeks, enabling one week for playoff expansion, and allows the playoffs to begin over Labor Day weekend. The World Series will end as the calendar turns to October to keep up the nostalgia feel.
What about records?
Only players, analysts, and writers care.
Final thing is the schedule will be almost entirely divisional games in the end, which keeps most teams in contention for the absolutely longest possible time. You can still mathematically win out, or go on a good run and make up enough ground since you’re playing divisional foes. Interleague will always be 4th of July, scrap the All Star Game, and begin with less intriguing, outside division, but inside the league games. For example, the first two months of the season for NL West teams will be playing against the NL East and NL Central. Opening week is when team play the first batch of their home and away series to capture immediate interest. Begin with Red Sox vs Yankees and Dodgers vs Giants.
What about travel? Get the long East and West coast swoons out-of-the-way. Make the West coast teams play the East coast teams in one setting so there is no back and forth. This is naturally solved since the divisions oppose each other early on and in unison with the rest of the league.
Last thing – what about playoffs? Three division winners. Top division winner by record (#1 Seed) gets the 8th best team in the league. Division winner two gets the seventh best record, and division winner three gets the sixth best. To maximize the odds of victory, the series will be a three-games, and hosted by the division winner. Two wildcards are seeds four and five. They will play at seed fours house. All home field, quick, three-game series for the first round. Seeds reset in second and third rounds. Second round is a five-game set with the already similar two, two, one setup. Third round is a best of seven. World Series is best of seven.
Voila! Make Baseball Great Again!