If and when the 2020 Major League Baseball season commences you could expect a few surprises in how the season plays out. In a recent interview with Maria Bartiromo of Fox Business Network, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said, “Baseball is not going to return until the public health situation is improved to the point that we’re comfortable we can play games in a manner that is safe for our players, our employees, our fans and in a way that will not impact the public health situation adversely.”
In the interview, he goes on to discuss the various ‘ideas’ MLB has to commence the 2020 season, including playing games solely in Arizona and Florida. Therefore, what may we infer from his interview? First, there will be a 2020 MLB season. Second, local markets will not INITIALLY see fans in the stands. Third, there will be baseball played in November. And fourth, the World Series will be played at a warm-weather location or inside a domed/retractable roof stadium.
Before we dissect each of these four points, it is important to note that none of these points were made by the commissioner. These are points inferred from his interview and media reporting.
Why will there be a 2020 MLB season? MLB believes it has a national duty to play when the public health allows it. After the 9/11 attacks, it was MLB that initiated the process of getting America back on its feet. MLB wants to aid in the recovery of America, once again.
Once the 2020 season commences, do not expect to see fans in the stands. Forty percent of MLB revenues are generated from local gates and gate related but there will be travel and mass gathering restrictions imposed by state and local governments. These restrictions will INITIALLY prevent MLB from hosting games in specific markets and with fans in attendance. So, this begs a question… if travel restrictions or mass gathering restrictions prevent many teams from hosting games, is it equitable to allow other teams to host games in their home cities? The apparent answer is no, but with a few exceptions. MLB will suffer a significant economic hit from the loss of local gate revenues. Due to fewer games being televised, its television contracts will pay significantly less. Does it make sense to have teams incur travel expenses to fly between cities to play games? To mitigate the financial impact of socio-municipal (Spanish phase to describe a local or municipal partner) decrees, MLB will play games in condensed geographic regions. In all likelihood, this means the season commencing in an extended Spring Training format in Arizona, and possibly Florida. Once travel and public health restrictions disappear, MLB will return to local markets. We project MLB will return to local markets on Labor Day weekend.
With local markets receiving their first taste of baseball in September, what will that indicate for pennant races? We foresee regular-season games being played effectively into the third week of October meaning pennant races, just like the season, experience a delayed start.
The post-season structure will be unlike any previous. Post-season doubleheaders? You know it. Travel days? Nope. Why? Once the regular season ends, playoff series and most likely the World Series will be played in neutral warm-weather locations.
MLB may attempt to play late October, early November 1st and 2nd round games in local markets. First and second-round games? Don’t you mean Wildcard games and Division Series? No, we mean first and second-round series. To maximize revenue out of a condensed season, we expect MLB to increase the size of the post-season field to 16 teams, extend Wildcard games now considered Round 1 games to three-game series, eliminate Division series and the traditional NL and AL team alignments, and group teams based on their geographic locations.
We could see the six divisions reduced to four for the upcoming season. We would propose East, Midwest, South and West Divisions. The top two teams from each division make the playoffs. Then the eight teams with the best records, regardless of division, receive the remaining playoff spots. The teams are seeded 1 through 16 and reseeded after each round.
Could you imagine sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner with the family and battling over whether to watch the third NFL game of the day on NBC or game 5 of the 2020 World Series? The scenario may present itself. Regardless of the outcome of the 2020 MLB regular season, the World Series will be played in a single market where the league will be able to maximize revenue. Whether this market is a warm-weather location such as Phoenix or a dome/retractable roof stadium like Minute Maid Park in Houston, all seven games will be played in a single market.
How ironic would it be that the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees play a seven-game World Series and it takes place inside Minute Maid park; not only the epicenter of the biggest cheating scandal in the history of the sport but featuring the two teams who were the victims of the scandal. We’re juiced, like 2019 baseballs and Jose Canseco, for the 2020 season to commence and the above scenario to play out. Or should we say, PLAY BALL!