For almost 70 years, the Major League Baseball playoffs were the shortest and simplest of the four major sports: The American League and National League champion met in the World Series.
But come 2012, MLB will almost surely join the NFL, the NBA and the NHL in inviting double-digit teams to its postseason. Commissioner Bud Selig told the Associated Press this week that plans are in place to add another wild card team and another round of playoffs to each league.
“The more we’ve talked about it, I think we’re moving inexorably to that,” Selig said.
Under Selig’s plan, the two wild card teams in each league will play in a first round series — which would likely be no longer than a best-of-three series and could be as brief as a single game — while the three division champions receive byes. Currently, the wild card in each league plays the highest seed, unless the wild card and the top seed come from the same division.
The expanded playoffs will obviously generate more revenue for Major League Baseball, but it may not be such a slam dunk for ticket brokers or fans.
“It’s hard to say — the market is so different in every area,” Kevin White of Philadelphia’s Wanamaker Ticket Office told TicketNews. “You see these empty seats in the playoffs — Tampa Bay [last year] is a perfect example. The market was terrible. So obviously it depends on what teams get in.”
An expanded playoffs would likely have no impact on business for brokers in cities where the baseball team is already an almost annual participant in the postseason. Indeed, it would further ensure the presence of squads such as the Phillies — who have won four straight NL East championships and have the longest active streak of consecutive playoff visits — New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. Under the proposed system, 2006 would have been the only season in which the Yankees or Sox would have missed the playoffs in the last nine years.
“We’re in a little bit of a different situation being in Philadelphia, where as if we were on the cusp of that ninth or 10th team, it would obviously be [more] beneficial,” White said. “I don’t know how beneficial that would be, [getting] a bye, from a business perspective, being the no. 1 or no. 2 seed.”
White is also uncertain of how much baseball needs an extra pair of playoff teams. Long known as the most exclusive of the postseason tournaments even with the addition of the wild card in 1995 (the playoffs first expanded when divisions were added to the American League and National League in 1969), the proposed system would allow 33 percent of teams to reach the postseason, just shy of the NFL’s 38 percent (12 of 32) but still well shy of the better than 50 percent mark in the NBA and NHL (16 of 30 apiece).
“I think eight teams is perfect — the less, the better,” White said. “Leave the mediocre teams out. One hundred sixty-two games is a long season. You should know the [best teams]. Less teams in, the better.”