Today is another day filled with sports reports that involve the intersection of sports and money. Let me start with MLB where the NY Post reports that the execs there are considering expansion of the playoffs from 10 teams to 14 teams. The playoffs would consist of the three division winners and four wild card teams. The team with the best overall record would be the one to get a bye in the first round of the league playoffs.
There is money to be made here from increased numbers of playoff games on television. Having said that, this is a horrible idea. There are only 30 MLB teams and this plan would put virtually half of them in the playoffs. There are lulls in the 162-game regular season as it is, but this will drain excitement from those games not add to the significance of many of them. The “threshold” for a playoff slot could be as low as 85 wins in the regular season; is that what I need to see in any sort of playoff format?
The NFL is also considering a change that will goose their revenues a bit; the league is considering extending flex scheduling to Monday Night Football once they get into negotiations with networks on new broadcast rights deals. There was a time when the Monday night game was a really big deal; it is now second in terms of “special-ness” to the Sunday night game partly because the NFL has done flex-scheduling with that Sunday night game for late season contests. That means that NBC and the other partners have some degree of control over what game is played at which time of day as the games take on more and more playoff significance. The Monday night game has never been part of that discussion.
Giving the holder of the Monday night rights a bit more control over what game it puts on has to increase the potential value of that rights deal to the network. On a Monday night in early December, a Monday night game between two teams with 4-9 records as they kick off is a ratings dud. It may have looked like an interesting pairing back in June when the schedule was finalized, but it looks like a giant cow pie in early December and the Monday Night Football folks can’t do anything about it.
That is the upside. Here is the downside… Let’s imagine that the game that has been flexed from Sunday to Monday has 65,000 fans who have purchased tix to the game. It would be annoying – and moderately inconvenient – if those fans thought that their tix were for a game that kicked off at 1:00 PM but had been flexed to Sunday night where kickoff would be 8:30 PM. For many fans, that would be no big deal; but if a father was planning on taking his 3 kids to that afternoon game, the switch to a late-night scenario might be a problem. Also, for the person who must be at work early on Monday, that could be a problem.
Now add to the scheduling inconvenience, a change of the day of the game as well as the time of the game. If only 5% of the fans are inconvenienced sufficiently to be angry over the “flexing” that represents 3250 upset fans. And among the upset fans would surely be the ones for visiting teams that booked flights and hotels to travel to see their home team play a road game. That is a loyal fanbase the league ought not seek to disaffect.
On a more positive note, MLS and the MLSPA have reached an agreement for a new CBA that extends over 5 years. According to reports, the new agreement has several advances for the players:
- Expanded free agency – players eligible at age 24 with 5 years in MLS
- Increased salary levels and salary flexibility for teams. Minimum salary level will increase by 56% over the 5-year term of this CBA
- More charter flights for away games. The minimum number of charter flights will quadruple over the period of this CBA.
Here is a link to a report in the Washington Post with more of the details of this new CBA if you are interested.
The last “money issue” I want to talk about today relates back to the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal – with the expectation that time will reveal that they were not the only team to do such a thing. The folks who run sports entities often resort to rhetorical flourish when they refer to “the integrity of the game”. MLB has a problem on its hands, and it is not going to be easy to rid itself of that problem with a wave of the hand and a few punishments handed out to managers and execs followed by rhetorical flourish. Major League Baseball has a history of cheating; it is well known, and it has been explained away in the past as isolated incidents of “gamesmanship”. Let me hit a couple of highlights all of which come decades after the Black Sox scandal in 1919:
- The movement of the outfield fences by Bill Veeck depending on which visiting team was in town.
- Turning the base path between first base and second base into a sandpit or a watery bog when Maury Wills came to town.
- Pitchers using spitballs, shine balls, scuffed balls and the like over long and storied careers.
- Team owners colluding to frustrate the free agency process – – and getting caught to the tune of about $300M.
- PEDs – – ‘nuff said.
- Electronic sign-stealing and “codebreaking”.
In addition to the common thread of “cheating”/” breaking the rules” here, the other common thread is that the only time a significant punishment was involved was in the “collusion crisis” in the 1980s. All the rest of these “cheating” incidents were glossed over – – and the current one is about to be glossed over as soon as the Commish announces whatever he found regarding the Red Sox activities were regarding the current crisis.
MLB is right to worry about “the integrity of the game” because it has ignored cheating scandals in the last century to the point where the next “attempt to get an edge” by some player or team is not going to be a big surprise. There is a ban on betting in baseball; that is why Pete Rose is out of baseball; that is why the owner of the Phillies back on the ‘40s had to sell the team; there is a punishment with teeth in it and even that cannot guarantee compliance. A slap on the wrist here will not have any deterrence effect at all – and that will be a big problem for MLB.
Finally, here is a Tweet from syndicated columnist Norman Chad:
“HOUSTON ASTROS FEBRUARY SCHEDULE:
Feb. 22: First Grapefruit League game vs. Nationals
Feb. 16: Spring training officially begins
Feb. 11: Pitchers and catchers report
Feb. 10: New sign-stealing tech support staff orientation”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………