Commissioner and Players Union Contemplate Expanding Baseball’s Postseason Field
With the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”), between the thirty Major League Baseball (“MLB”) organizations and the Players Association, set to expire on December 31, 2011, both sides have begun to discuss key issues which most likely will arise in the upcoming negotiation process. One particularly hot topic has been the proposal to add two additional teams to the postseason playoff field.
Under the current rules, the postseason field consists of eight total teams, with four from each league. The easiest way for a team to qualify for one of these spots is by finishing the regular season with the best record in its respective division. These division leaders constitute six out of the eight playoff spots that are currently available. The final playoff spot in each league, aptly referred to as the Wild Card, is then granted to the team that finishes the regular season with the best record of all remaining teams in that league. Under the proposed change, each league would add a second Wild Card team to the mix.
The Wild Card was first introduced in 1995 and, while not without controversy, has been widely popular. In the fifteen years since its inception, four Wild Card qualifiers have gone on to win the World Series. Proponents of the Wild Card argue that it helps solve the problem of an otherwise deserving team failing to qualify for the postseason simply because it happens to play in the same division as the league’s best team. Two additional Wild Card berths could further mitigate that dilemma, as well as provide a heightened level of excitement both for the fan bases of teams that qualify for the additional slots and Major League Baseball as a whole.
Furthermore, both MLB and the Players Association have a financial stake in increasing the field of teams in the postseason. As per the CBA, the postseason gate receipts are divided between the league and certain qualifying teams on a tiered basis. Moreover, the past four years have witnessed a dramatic increase in profits, with 2009 delivering the highest postseason gate receipts in baseball history. For example, the 2009 World Series Champion New York Yankees took home a bonus of $21,266,321.79. (View the complete breakdown of the financial awards distributed from the 2009 postseason players’ pool here.) There is nothing to suggest that this trend will soon be reversed, and more postseason contests would almost certainly create even higher gate receipts. Quite simply, an expanded baseball postseason field would generate more money for all parties involved.
The Players Association has already stated that it is open to discussing the possibility of adding more playoff teams to the postseason. Opponents of adding additional postseason slots argue that this would let undeserving teams qualify for the playoffs, as well as prolong an already lengthy season even further. While MLB Commissioner Bud Selig has admitted that he likes the idea of adding an additional Wild Card in each league, he has stressed that the proposal will require a pragmatic analysis. It is unclear whether this proposal will become a reality, but one thing is certain: players, executives, analysts and fans will be arguing about its merits all winter.