The new Wild Card play-in games added by Major League Baseball this year may not have the approval of many purists, but they surely have the approval of cable television channel TBS, who broadcast the games, and the advertisers whose commercials were seen by the large number of viewers who tuned in to see the Cardinals sneak past the Braves and the Orioles beat the Rangers. The two games drew an average of 4.6 million viewers, higher than the average of 4.2 million for last year’s division series and up 61% over 2011’s inaugural day of playoff coverage.
The biggest surprise in this ratings jump is that none of the biggest East Coast baseball markets were involved—no Boston, no New York Yankees, no Los Angeles or Philadelphia, just St. Louis, Atlanta, Texas and Baltimore. While St. Louis consistently performs well in the ratings due to the rabid hometown fanbase, none of these other teams are seen as ratings juggernauts. Perhaps the jump can be attributed to the fact that these Wild Card play-in games are win-or-go-home affairs, pre-packaged Game 7s, if you will. The fact that the games were sloppily played and sloppily umpired (particularly in the Braves-Cardinals game) did not stop people from tuning in, and probably won’t in the future either.
Opponents of the play-in game will have to compete with the additional revenue brought in by the league, by TBS, and by advertisers when making their arguments; it’s very likely this play-in game is not going away, and will more likely lead to more playoff games than less, with the two Wild Card teams perhaps playing a three game series instead of one game in the future. Baseball purists may not be happy about it, but those who make the money sure will.