At this point, we are deep into the baseball off-season. Spring Training is still months away. There are still a number of free agents to sign, trades to make, but all in all, baseball is entering the deadest time of the calendar. Yet, sometimes there are those random comments or actions that get headlines, but because the baseball scribes have nothing else to write about. Thus it was during the off-season when agent Scott Boras offered his suggestion for playing a 7-game World Series at a neutral site, with the idea that it generates revenue and attention ala the NFL Super Bowl. Most laughed that idea off as inane.
However, there are some areas where MLB could borrow from the NFL and NBA model of doing business. Not to say that MLB hasn’t borrowed from the other leagues. MLB has made the draft more of an event, holding it during the All-Star Weekend and they’ve implemented a draft lottery to mitigate any benefits for outright tanking. Yet, there are other areas in MLB that could and should mirror the other sports leagues which could have some significant payoffs.
PROPOSAL 1: Releasing the MLB regular season schedule after the conclusion of the regular season, ideally at the Winter Meetings:
As it stands right now, MLB releases the schedule for the next season in July, during the previously mentioned All-Star week. One can see the benefits of that timing, ensuring a bit more attention. Also, given that MLB needs to sort through 162 games for all 30 franchises, getting the schedule settled that far out allows for deconfliction with cities and venues. Perhaps that might be the most fan-friendly for in-person attendance, providing fans a lot of lead time to plan travel to games/venues.
However, there are some flaws in that approach. Issuing the schedule that early misses out on any potential drama in the later part of the season that could carry over into the next. While baseball will see every team play each other at least once, it can look at the key rivalries and matchups, manipulating the schedule to highlight some of those potentially key matchups at strategic points throughout the season. Also, such a schedule does not build off of what might occur in the post-season, as burgeoning rivalries that look like they will turn into much-watch duels can get somewhat shafted.
Take the case of the 2024 matchups between the Houston Astros and the Texas Rangers. Arguably, these two teams played THE playoff matchup of the past post-season, going 7 games in a back-and-forth ALCS that had all of the on-and-off-field drama possible. This built off a geographic rivalry that really took flight this past regular season, when it came down to the final day to determine a division winner. Throw in that the Rangers just won the 2023 World Series (easy to forget that in the furor about free agency), and that the Astros won the 2022 World Series, and you have all the makings of some great regular season drama and a matchup that should offer significant MLB promotion.
However, since the schedule was determined back in July, MLB gave the fans the following: Houston and Arlington playing 7 total games against each other within the 1st 3 weeks of the season, followed by a 3 game set in July and concluding their season series (3 games) in early August. Certainly playing the two series right after the start of the season can leverage memories of the past post-season to help generate some early season buzz. However, given the construction of the two squads, it is likely they will be competitors in the standings for the entirety of the season. While there exists the chance that either team could significantly fail to meet the previous season’s standard, does anyone else see a missed opportunity here?
MLB is big on growing the game and highlighting those great matchups and great superstars. I highly doubt you would see a situation where the Yankees and Red Sox play out all of their matchups before the stretch run in September (they do have a 3-game mid-September set). Yet, with the mandate to see every team play each other at least once a season, the schedule makers have sometimes sacrificed good rivalries that could get those coveted casual eyeballs. Hence, what you see with the Astros/Rangers.
This is not exclusive to Texas. Historic divisional rivalries like the Dodgers/Giants and Cardinals/Cubs are all played out long before we get to September. A complex undertaking like the MLB schedule can’t account for all variables and sometimes, you can’t get all the great rivalries to have a late-season high-drama matchup. Additionally, there is the risk of matchups that look dynamite in April evolving into duds in late August/September. However, how can baseball simply neglect to give those most passionate and perhaps consequential divisional rivalries at least a stretch run date? With baseball eyeing future TV contracts that might pump more money into MLB coffers, increasing the drama whenever feasible can only help in that department. Why not make the schedule release more dramatic, and create a schedule that offers plenty of matchups throughout the season that will only add to the sets of eyeballs that tune in?
So how would MLB manage this? Granted, the baseball off-season might arguably be the shortest of the Big 4. Releasing a schedule in late November/early December might seem a bit compressed and might possibly make it a little harder for fans to plan travel to different games. Likely MLB could not wait until after the World Series to build the actual schedule. Even with all the money and brainpower within the sport, that might be a bridge too far. However, it would be completely fair and reasonable to build out the schedule starting with the end of the regular season. By then, MLB could take into account the late-season drama that can carry into the next season.
Go back to the Astros/Rangers. The race for the AL West between these two rivals led to some of the best drama and attention of the whole regular season. Even just based off of the regular season finish, would MLB still schedule Houston-Arlington the way they did? At least I can’t see MLB finishing the complete season series just barely after the trade deadline if they waited to release/finalize the schedule until after the regular season ended.
PROPOSAL 2: Make July 4th a Marquee Day of Baseball Matchups, like Christmas is for the NBA.
While people will still call baseball “the American pastime”, it honestly hasn’t held that title since the merger of the AFL/NFL. Pro football rules the sports calendar. However, there are days that are associated with a sport. Take Christmas. The NBA offers that day for a bunch of marque/eye-catching matchups. This has been the case for most of the current century. Setting aside the recent NFL muscling in on the NBA marquee day (note the 2023 TV rating returns), the NBA will likely continue to make Christmas Day their special day. Could baseball do the same thing?
Enter the 4th of July. Of the Big 4, only MLB is playing at that time. Even in the international calendar, it can be a little barren. Hot dog eating contests and Wimbledon do offer some diversions, but that is a day begging for a sport to conquer it. As of now, baseball already has a full lineup of games, but there are not a lot of eye-popping “special” matchups. For 2024, Astros/Blue Jays are intriguing, but marquee, like maybe Astros/Rangers, Astros/Mariners, or Astros/Dodgers? Debatable. If baseball wants to even come close to recapturing its “America’s Game” mantle, why not give the watching audience a special reason to watch on America’s Birthday, with no legitimate competition from any other sports.
MLB could stack the schedule to make sure you get some juicy matchups. Ok, we do run the risk of seeing Dodgers/Yankees ad nauseam for the prime-time slot, but Ohtani vs. Judge with in-game and post-game fireworks? All for the greater good of baseball. Also, some key divisional rivalries or the latest superstar duels could make that list. Traditionalists may or may not care, but for the casual viewer, which is what the NBA is looking to snare on Christmas, why can’t MLB do the same for the 4th of July?
Some might counter that the 4th of July is more of a holiday when people will be away from the TV screen, and TV ratings in comparison to Christmas or New Year’s Day are far lower. I can see the argument for that. However, it can help to give people an actual reason to tune in to watch, if they can’t get to the actual ballpark. Stacking marquee MLB matchups to cover the 4th of July would not be that difficult for the scheduling powers of MLB.
However, that is just one author’s opinion. What say you, the hive mind of the interwebs? Like the current setup, or think MLB should match up a little better with the other sports leagues in schedule releases and/or making certain days on the calendar days for “marquee” matchups? Let your thoughts be heard below.