The return to a 154-game schedule? Not bloody likely.

53 Comments

Today Buster Olney takes up an issue that many have taken up over the years. Usually when the playoffs are near and the weather is getting cold and people wonder why the World Series can’t be over by October 15 like it used to be. The issue: the length of the regular season schedule and the possibility of it returning to 154 games.

Buster’s argument, inspired by some of Rob Manfred’s recent comments, is that the season is a grind and players may be willing to trade some salary for more time off. And that owners, if they were saving on some player salaries, would be amenable to taking four fewer home games worth of gate.

I’m not buying any of this.

As Olney notes, the average salary of the major league player is about $4.5 million. Hacking eight games off the year hacks an average of $222K off a player’s salary. That’s an awful lot of money to expect the average player to give up for less than two extra off-days a month. But let’s say, for a moment, players would be willing to do that.

Owners would give up eight games. Four games at home. Obviously the revenue a team makes per game varies widely, but one estimate from last week’s empty-ballpark game in Baltimore had the Orioles losing a little north of $1 million in revenue from concessions and tickets and so forth. For one game. The average player payroll savings per game — for the entire 25-man roster — would be around $695,000. So, already, the average owner would be losing more money than the average player would per cancelled game.

But wait, that’s not all the owners would lose! Currently, the biggest driver in team revenue are television contracts. Television contracts which pay billions to the league and to teams. Do you think that the good folks at Fox, ESPN, Comcast, the local broadcasters and the regional sports networks are going to pay the same amount to clubs for nearly 5% fewer games? Think again. There’s another big haircut for the owners. And that’s before you take into account the revenue MLBAM gets for streaming games, preroll ads for game highlights at MLB.com and stuff like that.

That TV money thing is not accounted for in Olney’s argument, by the way. Nor are the complications arising from team’s relationships with vendors like Aramark, parking companies, local government, advertising partners and, all of whom have relationships with clubs that either directly or indirectly count on 81 home games a year. That all vanishes if you cut eight games off the season. At least to the tune of 5% or so, maybe more. Currently baseball’s revenues are $9 billion. Are the Lords of the Realm likely to give up $450 million a year (at least as a baseline) in order to give some players a few extra days off?

Call me crazy, but I don’t think it’s bloody likely.