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MLB Playoff Expansion for 2020 Creates More Valuable TV Inventory

Just hours before the 2020 Major League Baseball season was about to begin, the league and players agreed to expand the playoff field from 10 to 16 teams — for this season only.

The move will have major implications for the league’s truncated 60-game season, in that it basically turns the entire campaign into a free-for-all with more than half the league jockeying for playoff positioning until the final game. It’s the sort of pennant chance that the MLB rarely has. But this shortened season provided an opportunity to get more teams involved without really diluting the regular season. And it should pay off big in terms of putting the largest number of very watchable games on television.

We’ve discussed aspects of what an expanded postseason would look like for MLB in this space before. The standard 10-team field has been in place since 2012 and features a maximum of 43 nationally-televised games across Fox, TBS, ESPN, Fox Sports 1 and MLB Network. Last year’s playoffs featured $463 million in ad spend, according to iSpot.tv, over the course of 37 games (including the World Series).

However, this year’s postseason will now feature a minimum of 40 games, with teams playing in best-of-three series in the first round, best-of-five in the divisional series and best-of-seven in the league championship and World Series rounds. That could result in a maximum of 65 games — a significant increase over what’s typical.

And that’s all before considering how many more valuable games are added onto the regular season calendar by making more teams eligible for the playoffs (so more regular season games have stakes toward the end of the schedule). After years of getting more and more regional in nature, baseball could suddenly find itself some national relevance for much of the season — something that could come with an increased number of national broadcasts, too.

No, this fix doesn’t make up for the $4 billion-plus loss that MLB owners estimated they’d lose this year. But it does help make up at least a larger portion of that dollar amount. Broadcast partners are assisted too, obviously — something they desperately need given the continued concerns around what losing football this fall could do to their bottom lines.

Granted, there will be some issues from purists around how this makes it tougher for the top teams to win (Los Angeles Dodgers fans should be particularly concerned given the fact that this makes it harder to make good on their World Series favorite status). But securing better future financial health for MLB probably helps offset those questions right now.

In any case, this New York Mets fan is hoping the expanded field means hope come October. Looking back at recent years, a 16-team playoff would’ve meant bids for the Mets in both 2014 and 2019 (on top actual postseason trips in 2015 and 2016). I can dream, anyway…