To help compensate for the sport’s massive pandemic-driven revenue losses, MLB and the MLB Players Association agreed on a 16-team playoff field with a first-round, three-game wild card series for the 2020 season. That agreement covered this year only, but Commissioner Rob Manfred made headlines a few weeks ago when he said he was “a fan of the expanded playoffs” and hoped to keep them around permanently.
Rather than maintain the 16-team field, though, the league’s preference is to adopt a 14-team format, per Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic. Under such a system, the team with the best record in each league would receive a first-round bye.
Rosenthal casts doubt on whether that idea would be acceptable to the MLBPA, which fears adding playoff teams could disincentivize clubs from aggressively pursuing roster upgrades. That concern spurred the MLBPA to reject MLB’s push for a 2021 playoff expansion during the parties’ first round of talks this summer. The Players Association also expressed reservation about the physical toll an extra playoff round could take on some players, per Rosenthal.
Typically, players receive a share of gate revenues during the playoffs. This year, with no fans in attendance (until the NLCS), the parties agreed players would receive a $50MM bonus pool from the league’s television revenues in exchange for expansion. That’s a small percentage of the league’s $1 billion estimate for TV revenues this fall, Rosenthal points out. Estimated revenues will further increase over the next decade thanks to the league’s recent broadcasting deals with Turner and Fox.
Also complicating matters is the generally icy relationship between players and owners, Rosenthal notes. The sides were unable to agree on return-to-play measures following weeks of back-and-forth this summer, pushing Manfred to impose a 60-game schedule. The parties’ subsequent agreement on playoff expansion may have eased tensions somewhat, but there’s still a general expectation of acrimony between the two sides moving forward, particularly with the current collective bargaining agreement expiring in December 2021. Potential long-term playoff expansion will surely be a big talking point over the coming months, but the parties seemingly have plenty of work to do to push that over the edge.