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Could MLB Expansion And More Playoff Teams Pave Way For 154-Game Season?

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There has been recent talk that there is “momentum” to get the Major League Baseball season down to 154 games from the current 162. The report by David Lennon of Newsday mentions the current bargaining sessions that should lead baseball to a new labor agreement no later than December of this year as where the topic has surfaced.

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The report doesn’t mention who brought the negotiating subject up, but it seems pretty obvious it’s the union for the players, and can you blame them? The season is a grinder with travel, not to mention make-up games and double-headers to try and cover for weather related postponements.

The average fan, may want it. Schedulers have to, as well. But, the idea of a shortened season from 162 games to 154 isn’t going to work with the owners because of the obvious, almighty dollar getting in the way.

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 To convince owners to cut the season down would require the owners to say that they’d be willing to pass on not only the gate, concessions, merchandising, and parking revenue, they’d have to figure out how to give back critical television revenues for contracts with their regional sports networks.

But this isn’t to say that there might not be a way for the regular season to be shortened, just not as part of the upcoming labor deal.

Commissioner Manfred has said that MLB is a growth industry. To that, he has been quoted repeatedly as saying he’d like to see the league expand to 32 teams at some point in the future, with international markets Montreal and Mexico City getting a lot of attention. It’s a long way off, and the league has said that before expansion can be pursued seriously, first the Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays need new ballparks.

In the 32 team scenario, MLB would go to eight divisions of four teams each. How the regular season would be shortened at that point would be by the league expanding the playoffs from 10 to likely 12 teams. Right now the regular season is so stacked that the only way to expand the playoffs would be to lower the number of regular season games. It would still be a hard sell for the owners as there’s going to be 18 teams that miss the playoffs and the revenues from the lost games, but that could be partially bridged through television and digital media rights for the additional postseason games.

So, the way to a 154 game season may be to actually add games, albeit in the postseason. The players pay could, ostensibly, be the same, if the league were to tell the MLB Players Association that the service time clock wouldn’t change. That would ensure no sagging salaries due to the lowered number of regular season games.

There’s a lot of “what ifs?” here, but it provides an easier path than each of the owners just outright giving up revenues from eight games a season. Expanded playoffs would come with league expansion, which, coupled with media rights revenues, helps the owners even further.

It could all be done, with the emphasis on “could be.” The one thing that seems certain: unless there was some mammoth concession by the players, don’t look for the 154 game season as part of the next labor deal. There’s simply too much money for the owners to give in to, even if it did mean less wear and tear on the players due to the grueling travel schedule.

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