No wonder MLB owners have been pushing so hard to ensure they get to the postseason. According to Andrew Marchand of the New York Post, the league has agreed to a new playoff package with Turner Sports to keep one league championship series on the network. Exact terms were not disclosed, but it’s expected to be a substantial increase from the current $350 million per season and could be as much as $500 annually.
MLB brings in nearly $790 million in playoff broadcast rights each year, though the figures released by the league had Turner’s deal at $310 million of that. Either way, this new pact should push the total to at least $900 million even without increases in other broadcast agreements. Fox had been the biggest partner at $370 million, then there’s $30 million from MLB Network, $27 million from ESPN, and $50 million from international and others.
While this windfall is certainly good for baseball as a whole, it’s pretty damning for the owners who’ve been turning their pockets out and lamenting how their industry simply isn’t profitable. They have been pushing the narrative that empty ballparks will have such an adverse impact on revenue that paying players will cause teams to lose money hand over fist. Meanwhile, the real revenue streams just keep getting bigger.
Speaking of which, expanded playoffs that will be a part of this season and maybe even next if an agreement is reached will mean another significant bump for the league. Marchand further reported that ESPN/ABC had interest in expanding its own coverage of the MLB postseason, so there could a good fit there. The owners were holding fast to a September 27 end date in order to honor existing broadcast schedules, but a new or increased partnership would mean adding money without reworking schedules.
There’s a reason MLB has been able to set new high-water marks for revenue in each of the last 18 years despite seeing a general decline in attendance, and it ain’t because they’re jacking up ticket prices. This latest announcement pokes yet another hole in the league’s flimsy arguments and gives the MLBPA plenty of ammunition when it comes to negotiating the terms of the 2020 season.
Oh, but how much do you wanna bet we hear the counterargument that this deal doesn’t start until the conclusion of the current agreement following the 2021 season? True though that may be, owners shouldn’t base their decisions on immediate profits and losses in the first place. Prioritizing the long-term health of the sport will mean more money over time. Maybe in the short run too.
Playing 72 games at full prorated pay would cost owners about $318 million more than the owners’ latest proposal, assuming the playoffs are completed and the money maxes out. It’s pretty reasonable to assume they can get an extra $150 million annually from expanded playoffs, so they’re almost at a wash. And that’s without factoring in the possibility that fans will be able to attend, nor does it account for increased ad rates for playoff games that will draw more viewers than before.
I’m very interested to see how this all gets explained away or whether it’s enough to move the owners toward the middle ground they’ve been avoiding as though it’s a minefield.