ESPN Goes All-In On MLB Regular Season Stretch Run, Airing 11 Games In 14 Days
Based on the agreement ESPN has with the league, they can flex their Sunday, Monday, and Wednesday Night Baseball inventory across multiple days. Based upon this agreement, the Worldwide Leader can flex their schedule and place a Monday Night Baseball game on a Tuesday or Wednesday to host double or tripleheader game programming. ESPN is granted a shorter lead time for their weeknight games – as short as three days out — to select matchups with direct playoff implications. In addition to the Sunday, Monday, and Wednesday inventory, as part of the current agreement with MLB, ESPN is granted four additional “postseason impact games.”
ESPN started the increased number of games over the final two weeks of the regular season with Sunday night’s game between the Phillies and Mets at Citi Field. As of Tuesday, the Phillies are 3 games behind the Braves in the NL East standings. Mathematically, the Mets are still clinging to a playoff spot (0.4% chance of making the postseason): they sit 6 games out of the NL East lead.
Out of the 14 games being aired, two of them feature the Yankees and Red Sox, both of whom are in the AL Wild Card mix. Boston currently is the #1 AL Wild Card team while the Yankees are just 0.5 games behind Toronto for the second Wild Card spot.
While one might look at the teams listed for programming, and latch onto the market size, what ESPN sees are historic brands that resonate nationally.
“My job is to put on the games every night that most of America wants to watch,” said Rick Mace, senior manager of programming and acquisitions at ESPN who leads the network on their MLB property. “We want to chase the most relevant games out there. But I really focus on the audience trends.”
Mace noted a core difference in programming when it comes to different sports: Fans tune into the NBA largely for its stars. The NFL is largely the product where fans will tune in whether they are a fan of a certain team, or not. And in MLB, it’s team brands, most of which are generational. This explains why teams like the Red Sox, Yankees, Cubs, Dodgers, and Cardinals will wind up repeatedly in national broadcasts, not just on ESPN, but also FOX and TBS, who have media rights agreements with Major League Baseball.
The Blue Jays will face the AL East-leading Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday in what ESPN is calling a “postseason impact game” on Tuesday where Toronto will look to both solidify their AL Wild Card spot and possibly catch the Red Sox who are one slim game ahead of the Blue Jays for the first AL Wild Card position.
The tight races out west in the National League fit into ESPN’s programming for double and tripleheaders are set to take place. The San Diego Padres will be featured in three games (9/22, 9/24, and 9/28) where they will face off with the Braves, Dodgers, and Giants.
As part of Friday’s tripleheader, ESPN will air the Cardinals vs. the Cubs. This game is the only one that features a team out of the postseason hunt — the Cubs are currently 24 games out of the NL Central race and 13.5 out of the NL Wild Card. Still, St. Louis is currently the second NL Wild Card team with a 3-game lead on the Cincinnati Reds.
As ESPN has exclusivity agreements with Major League Baseball several of the games will see blackouts for the TV territory that one, or both teams playing.
With ESPN able to work a short lead time for games they have the rights to air, the final two games of the programming schedule are TBD. This could allow ESPN to flex should the A’s (2 games out of the AL Wild Card) or Mariners (3 games out of the AL Wild Card) were to mount a charge and be in the mix for landing in the postseason as the final games of the regular season arrive.
Below shows the 11 games over the last two weeks of the season, as provided by ESPN. The TBD games will be updated once they are released.