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ESPN urges MLB to keep new wild card format amid rights talks

43.7m viewers tuned in to US network’s live broadcasts for expanded round.

12 October 2020 Steven Impey

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  • Wild card round viewership averages 1.7m across all networks
  • Burke Magnus, ESPN programming VP, keen to retain best-of-three format

US broadcast giant ESPN is pushing for Major League Baseball (MLB) to keep its expanded best-of-three wild card format during negotiations over an extension to their rights contract.

ESPN and MLB are expected to renew their rights deal for the next cycle and, according to the Sports Business Journal (SBJ), the success of the new wild card round ‘will play a big role in those talks’.

Burke Magnus, ESPN’s executive vice president of programming and scheduling, said that the network has been buoyed by a surge in TV viewership during 16 of the 18 wild card games it aired, attracting a combined 43.7 million viewers.

“We like this format – we hope it stays,” Magnus said. “It’s way better, in our estimation, than a single wild card game setting that position after a long regular season. One game seems miniscule by comparison.”

According to SBJ, average viewership per game across all networks was 1.7 million – though Magnus cites the new wild card format, as well as more desirable primetime starts, for a boost in MLB ratings across Disney’s ABC and ESPN channels.

“We didn’t really know what to expect,” Magnus continued. “But the combination of all the factors – the newness of the format, the intriguing circumstance around the abbreviated season and the likely ability for all teams to be able to compete favourably – set up pretty well for us.”

Traditionally, the round features two single playoff games after the end of the regular MLB season, with two wild card teams in each division progressing to the next round of the post season.

Having agreed with the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) earlier in the year to play only 60 regular-season games this year in light of the coronavirus pandemic, MLB elected for each division to expand its number of wild card games per division from one to three.


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