A Meaningful Regular Season

Another baseball regular season has come and gone and it is looking again like it meant nothing. 

All the top teams have been bounced early and teams with good, but not great seasons that barely made it into the playoffs are advancing. 

Winning a division and getting home field advantage doesn’t seem to provide much of an advantage.  Just getting in is all you need to do. 

Does this matter? 

To some, not at all, but if your regular season doesn’t matter - why watch. I know plenty of sport fans who now only watch the playoffs - “when it matters”. 

Leagues and their broadcast partners should be concerned.  Fandom is about passion not apathy. 

Upsets do happen - and they’re not necessarily the issue.  Having a compelling regular season where every game matters is key. The NFL, the gold standard league gets it right.  With only 17 games and  only 44% teams who qualify, it makes game matter.  Due to the grueling nature of football - a bye is really an advantage and the top seeds usually win. 

Baseball now has 40% of teams making it to the postseason over 162 games.  It is is marathon to that made sense when only 4 qualified. Back then winning a division and pennant meant something. Now in championship or bust culture - playing that many games to eliminate a few seems out of whack. 

The bigger issue in baseball is that giving a bye to the better teams, while lower seeds compete to see who plays them - puts the higher seed at a disadvantage.  

Timing is everything with hitting in baseball and a few days off can throw everything off. We saw this again this playoff. Yes, you can rest your pitchers with the time off - but many top teams are able to do that near the end of the long decided regular season. 

With half the teams making it in hockey - it is another sport with a less than meaningful regular season. Many Leafs fans will endure another long winter waiting to see what a perennial playoff team will ultimately do in May. 

Yes, some will go and regardless - but why dissuade others to tune in more. 

So what to do? 

Give the top seed - division winners a one game lead automatically.  They still get the same number of games at home - but they’re leading the series right from the start. 

I teach sports marketing, so I know losing a playoff gate and broadcast will not be welcomed by owners. Data will have to show that the drop in ratings and attendance is related to regular season apathy. It is all about the money. 

As I write this, another sports betting ad came up on the screen. Perhaps as long as the masses can make their own drama with a wager - the actual winning implications for a team don’t matter. 

But training your audience to trade team sport passion for random outcome I believe is perilous.

Enjoy the sugar rush of money from engagement now sport leagues - but better still take care of the product. 

I can bet on anything. 

By Greg Cawsey