MLB’s expanded playoffs have paid off in a big way as baseball’s biggest stage approaches.


Bryce Harper, one of the sport’s most marketable stars, is finally making his World Series debut after lifting the Philadelphia Phillies from a third-place finish in the NL East to the Fall Classic.Images: getty

When Major League Baseball announced a playoff expansion from 10 clubs to 12 as part of its new five-year collective bargaining agreement last spring, the primary motive was to keep more markets engaged longer. In that regard, “it was a resounding success,” MLB chief revenue officer Noah Garden said as the league drew 1,644,658 fans in the final weekend of the regular season, marking the weekend busiest since August 2015.

What few could have foreseen was the benefit of keeping a market engaged for as long as possible. The Philadelphia Phillies, who have won 87 games this season, would have been two wins away from a playoff spot under the previous format. Instead, they became the first third-place team to reach the World Series, sparking a resurgence in romance for the City of Brotherly Love team that should pay dividends for years to come. and establishes a model for future teams. the same.

Take, for example, merchandise. For Game 5 of the NLCS, when Philadelphia won against the San Diego Padres to set up a Fall Classic game with the Houston Astros, Phillies executive vice president David Buck said the outlet of the stadium team was selling four times as much merchandise as it normally sells during a sold-out game. And Phillies fans, who had been waiting 11 years for their team to return to the playoffs, didn’t stop there. The team set a Fanatics sales record for the 24 hours after a club won a league championship series, breaking the previous record since the Chicago Cubs won the National League pennant in 2016, their first league title in 71 years.

Then there are ticket sales. Philadelphia’s season ticket base had risen to 13,000 in 2019, after the club signed superstar outfielder Bryce Harper to a 13-year, $330 million deal, but had fallen to around 10,000 in the aftermath of the pandemic. “I believe it’s going to go back up to 13,000 or more next year,” Buck said. “This will ensure success for the next two years.”

MLB is optimistic, the same could be said about the effect of the extended playoffs on several industries. In addition to having the busiest weekend in the final month of the season since September 2014, MLB saw a positive development in viewership and revenue as the playoffs began. The expanded round of wild cards — which included six out-of-division winners, up from four, and went from one game to a best-of-three series — generated $100 million in additional revenue for the league, according to multiple sources. MLB played a total of nine wildcard games over four matchups in the round, including three series that were won in two games and a fourth that went to a deciding third game.

The perennial American League champion Houston Astros are making their fourth World Series appearance in six years.Images: getty

The nine wildcard games averaged 2.8 million viewers on ABC, ESPN and ESPN 2, a 64% increase over the 2020 wildcard round average, which was the first with more than two games ( due to the modified playoff structure instituted for this pandemic-shortened 60-game season). That viewing figure was also higher than three of last year’s division games.

The trend continued in this year’s split round, which saw average viewership on TBS and Fox/FS1 increase by 21% over last year. The split round also saw big gains among younger viewers, including a 22% increase in viewers 18-34 and a 9% increase in viewers 17 and under. Social media gains followed suit: on Instagram, views per video for @MLB accounts via wildcard and divisional rounds increased 115% over 2019, and engagement per post on Facebook increased by 94%.

From a sponsorship perspective, increasing games, viewership and engagement is “more of a canvas for our partners to tell a story that resonates with our fans and to reach more eyeballs,” a said Garden. “The value of this is certainly not overlooked by them or by us.”

It will be just another boon for the league when it heads to the negotiating table with the brand it chooses for sponsor ads on batting helmets. Despite a provision in the new CBA that granted MLB the ability to implement such advertisements for this year’s playoffs, the league opted to wait to introduce sponsor logo decals on helmets until the next playoffs. “We didn’t go there thinking, ‘Hey, we’re going [expand the postseason] and the helmet ad is going to be worth more,” Garden said. “But yeah, this year’s results are going to have a pretty good effect on the value of this asset.”

Those in and around the league haven’t expressed much concern about the expanded playoffs, doing anything to dilute the importance of regular season games, and therefore having an effect on attendance. and the audience. That sentiment held true even when executives were asked about the potential for a 14-club post-season format, a possibility that will arise during negotiations for the next CBA and something commissioner Rob Manfred has said. declared favorable to the league.

“I can’t think of a negative,” said Craig Sloan, chief operating officer of Playfly Sports, whose sales division, Home Team Sports, represents all regional sports networks in the United States, “apart from maybe a baseball purist who wants to go back to the old era of pennant-only racing.

Sloan argued that the effect of the expanded playoffs could be felt not just in October and the weeks leading up to it, but much earlier.

“In baseball, more than any other sport, you sell hope,” he said. “And that hope starts with more opportunity. I would say it helped eliminate the scorching summer days. We talk about it from a player perspective, but I think there was a fan lethargy that happened every year. Well, now you have teams competing year-round, and stories like the Phillies where they came out of nowhere.

Indeed, the Phillies’ unexpected run has given MLB a storyline to promote in the World Series against the Astros, who are making their fourth appearance in six years. The league has also secured one of the biggest markets in the country — and, in Harper, one of the sport’s best-known and most marketable players — on baseball’s biggest stage.

It was Harper, two-time NL MVP and seven-time All-Star, who provided the playoffs signature moment to date when he hit a two-run home run late in the NLCS eighth inning. . Game 5 against the Padres. It secured Harper’s first trip to the World Series in his 11-year career and earned him the NLCS MVP award. A video of Harper’s home run to the music of “Moneyball” — which came out in 2011, the last time the Phillies reached the playoffs — has gone viral and now has nearly 5 million views. It’s a moment that never would have happened without an expanded postseason.

Garden was among 136,231 people in attendance at Citizens Bank Park over the weekend. “Electric” was the word he used to describe the atmosphere. He said even the buzz that could be felt on TV didn’t do him justice.

It’s an environment that Buck had seen before. He’s been with the organization long enough to have witnessed the euphoria that accompanied the team’s 2008 World Series title, one of only two in its 140-year franchise history, which s It came amid a run of five straight NL East titles and back to back-to-back pennants in 2008 and ’09. Buck used this experience to convince even some skeptical players that if they got it right, they would hear something they would never forget.

“Over the past two years, I’ve met players probably four or five times,” the Phillies exec said. “They were like, ‘You know, the place isn’t that loud. And I kept saying, “Win, and it’ll be strong like you never thought it would be.” And now the players say the fans are a big part of what we do. A couple said to me, ‘You were right.’ The city totally embraced this team. And it was amazing.

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