MLB Details Plan To Change Scheduling Structure For Minor Leagues
In recent years, all four levels of full-season baseball have played 140-game schedules. That will change in 2021.
In a memorandum, MLB has informed minor league teams that it plans to change the scheduling structure.
Under MLB's plan, Class A teams will play 132 games, Double-A teams will play 138-games and Triple-A clubs will play 144 games.
The memo states that this plan is for 2022 and beyond, effectively acknowledging the exact format and number of games for the 2021 season remains in flux because of the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic.
The plan means Class A teams will each lose four home dates from their current schedule. Double-A teams will each lose one home date while Triple-A teams will each add two home dates.
The economic impact of the plan depends on the timing of these new schedules. If the shorter Class A schedule means that Class A play does not start until April 15, it will mean eliminating some of the worst weather (and smallest crowds) for many teams. Such a schedule would likely have only a modest impact on most Class A teams’ revenues.
But if the schedule begins around the current start date, with either an earlier end date or a more spread out schedule, the economic impact will be more significant.
Depending on the team, clubs usually make between $15-$25 per fan that comes through the gates—the calculation is known in the industry as the per capita figure. For a team with excellent attendance, losing one or two home dates can mean a significant dip in revenue. For teams with poor early-season attendance, the economic impact could be quite minimal.
At the Triple-A level, the addition of four games will bring schedules back to what they were at the start of the last decade. Previous Professional Baseball Agreements allowed leagues to play additional games beyond the mandated 140 with MLB farm directors’ approval, but that approval was taken away in recent years. Leagues were limited to 142 games in 2017 and 140 beginning in 2018.
For the most successful Triple-A teams, the addition of two extra home dates could provide a significant boost in revenue.
One potential concern to minor league teams is a provision MLB has made clear. Under MLB’s structure for the minor leagues, the MLB Commissioner holds “ultimate authority to make all scheduling and format decisions, including determining the appropriate number of games to schedule in each season.”
MLB promises to consult with the Professional Development License Executive Board before making any changes to the number of games, but MLB retains the right to make all final decisions.
MLB has also modified game time provisions. MiLB’s negotiating committee made clear to MLB that the provisions for earlier start times on getaway days could cause significant financial hardships. Most notably, requiring earlier start times on Thursdays would likely cut MiLB attendance significantly. Across the minors, Thursdays are one of the best draws of the week, largely due to 2-for-1s and other beverage promotions.
MLB previously modified its scheduling provisions to allow start times for the final day of the series to begin at 7:05 p.m. local time if teams don’t have to travel more than 150 miles for the next day’s game. There was a sliding scale of one minute earlier on the start time per one mile over 150 miles. For example, if a team had to travel 200 miles (50 miles beyond the 150-mile provision), the start time could be no later than 6:15 p.m. (50 minutes before 7:05). MLB also already added a provision that teams can’t be required to start any earlier than 6:05 p.m. local time on any game in the half-month of which the average daily high temperature was 90 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.
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MLB has also added a provision that clubs may schedule getaway games on Thursday for a 7:05 p.m. start if the distance either team will travel after the game is 190 miles or less.
The amended proposal gives the Professional Development License Executive Board the ability to recommend changes to this rule at the end of each season. There is the possibility that the temperature threshold may change to heat index rather in future years. There may be exceptions made for games broadcast on regional television networks or other aspects that lead to a change in scheduling rules.