Over the last 15 years, baseball has grown from a roughly $2 billion industry into a $9 billion industry. Nearly 1.65 million fans at ballparks across the U.S. just turned out for a weekend of interleague play - the league’s biggest attendance weekend since September, 2008, "and September is when everybody is playing for keeps," notes the Baltimore Sun’s Peter Schmuck.
"Fans coming out in these remarkable numbers demonstrate the popularity of interleague play," said MLB Commissioner Bud’ Selig in a news release on Monday. "I remain optimistic that our attendance numbers will continue to climb with summer beginning tomorrow and five of the six divisions separated by 1 1/2 games or less."
If baseball’s 30 owners get behind new realignment proposals being discussed by Selig and his staff, interleague games will become more commonplace. MLB is looking at diving into two 15-team leagues in which the top five teams in each league make the playoffs - a format that is much closer to the NBA and NHL than to baseball’s current postseason design. That realignment would also correct MLB’s current schedule imbalance, culminating in six divisional races and a wild card slot. The National League comprises 16 teams, the American League only 14 - meaning a team from the NL Central division now has a one in six shot at making the playoffs, while a team from the AL West has 25% chance.
In order to even out the National League and the American League, more interleague games would have to be incorporated into the season-long schedule (a move that’s bound to be popular with baseball fans), and one team would obviously have to move from the NL to the AL. The two teams in the NL that are thought to be the most likely to change leagues are the Houston Astros, currently in the middle of a sales transaction, and the Arizona Diamondbacks. But Diamondbacks President and CEO Derrick Hall told the Arizona Republic last week that he "doubts his club would have to make the move."
"Naturally, we would look into it if asked about it," Hall said. "But I’m not sure we’d ever get to that point because I think other teams make more sense geographically than we do." For the moment, Hall is more concerned about his team’s own divisional race - and the prospect of playing host to MLB’s All-Star Game in July.
Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek look at sports deals, ownership, and more in their forthcoming Beyond the Scoreboard giving readers insider access to the boardrooms, negotiating tables, and executive suites of sport’s most influential powerbrokers. Keep an eye on HK News for Rick and Karla’s view of current events in sports business.