Getting into basketball has been an amazing, recent addition to my life, mostly because my hometown Brooklyn Nets have a team of All-Stars chasing the championship. 82-game seasons have always felt like a big commitment, but three games a week (around two and a half hours each), isn’t actually that demanding if you’re into the game. I don’t watch a lot of television to begin with, so it’s all fine by me.
Baseball, however, has always alluded me. If 82-game seasons seem daunting, try 162. Six games a week, over three hours each. The sheer length of the season has been the No. 1 deterrent over “it’s long and boring,” but I happen to like baseball. There’s just too much.
So, what do we do? Well, I have a plan to fix baseball. What would happen if we cut the season from 162 games, to 82 games like the NBA? Everything comes down to money, so let’s do the math.
Currently, the MLB makes most of its money from broadcast television deals. “Ticket sales, sponsorships, and concessions at the ballpark also contribute to MLB team revenues,” for about 40%, according to Investopedia. And while COVID-19 has damaged most of that, for this conversation we’re going to pretend like it’s still 2019 and everything is great. The air is not yet poisonous, and baseball is flourishing.
For comparisons to the NBA:
|82 game season, 1,230 total||162 game season, 2,430 total|
|30 teams, 15-player roster||30 teams, 40-player roster|
|2019 total revenue: $8.76 billion||2019 total revenue: $10.7 billion|
|Average team salary: $116 million||Average team salary: $128 million|
Even though the total revenue and average team salaries end up looking pretty similar, baseball players playing twice as many games and having nearly three-times as many players per team means that they are making way less money per game than NBA players. This is not a good thing to see for someone who’s about to cut that all in half… but I carry on.
Starting off, cutting the amount of games in half means that the MLB makes half as much money as it currently does. Television deals air half as many games, half as many tickets are sold, you get the picture.
The $10.7 billion that the MLB racked in from 2019 becomes a little over $5 billion, and the average team salary goes from $128 million down to $64 million. According to Spotrac‘s MLB team payout tracker, this would be the same as the smallest total team payroll in 2019—the Tampa Bay Ray’s at $64.18 million. Assuming that this is the bare-minimum to survive as an MLB team, cutting that in half to $32 million would probably completely cripple the Ray’s.
Needless to say, we’re going to have to lose some teams to stay afloat. If $64 million is the new minimum after cutting every team’s salaries in half, that means 10 of the 30 MLB teams will have to declare bankruptcy. Yup, that’s a third of the league. Here’s a list of teams that no longer exist:
- Toronto Blue Jays
- Cleveland Indians
- Kansas City Royals
- San Diego Padres
- Oakland Athletics
- Chicago White Sox
- Miami Marlins
- Baltimore Orioles
- Pittsburgh Pirates
- Tampa Bay Rays
If you’re still with me, it actually only gets worse. Players and coaches aside, each stadium employs around 800-1,000 people. With a third of the league now gone, let’s call that about 10,000 layoffs. For comparison, when Toys R’ Us folded, roughly 31,000 people lost their jobs. I’m sure a lot of surviving teams who are going to get knocked down to Tampa Bay’s size will have to downsize as well, so total employees now jobless will probably be just as bad as Toys R’ Us numbers-wise.
Okay… so it would be an economic disaster, but it would stop baseball from declining viewership right? No, not even that actually. People may be watching less baseball than they did a decade ago, but there are still A LOT of people watching baseball.
According to The New York Times, “68.5 million fans attended major league baseball games during the 2019 regular season, down from a peak of nearly 80 million in 2007,” but the MLB’s ticket sales still far outweighed that of the NFL and the NBA. Why? Because there are so many more opportunities to see baseball games.
The Detroit Tigers, a team that under our new 20-team league would become the poorest team in Major League Baseball, are the most popular prime-time broadcast in their local market. It’s the same for 11 other baseball teams in the country, and the World Series is still the No. 1 non-NFL program on television.
Where the NFL and NBA air more games on national networks, most MLB games only air in their local markets. More people in Colorado are watching Rockies games than Broncos games, and unlike 16-game seasons in football, or 82-game seasons in basketball, it’s because there are 162 baseball games a season. Having this many baseball games is actually good for the business of baseball.
So, what happens now? Does downsizing the season from 162 games to 82 even “save baseball” then? Maybe for my ability to watch it, but in reality it would ultimately destroy baseball.
“The Decline of Baseball” appears to be a myth, and for the fans, no one really seems to mind how many games there are. Baseball really isn’t losing any money because of it either (pre-COVID-19). If you remember the graph from above, the MLB’s total revenue in 2019 hit $10.7 billion, according to Forbes. $10.7 billion not only exceeds that of the NBA’s $8.76 billion, but it’s also an all-time high for the MLB.
Moving past 2019 into COVID-19 realities, the virus has basically done what I’ve done. As the Associated Press reported back in May, the MLB expects to lose $640,000 for each game over an 82-game season in empty ballparks with no fans. The season they ended up creating, however, had only 60 games. Sadly, we don’t have to imagine what happens to baseball when you cut the money in half to make a shorter season. We’ve learned that baseball is doomed to be 162 games, or it destroys baseball.
What do you think? Drop your thoughts in the comments below.