ESPN lands rights to MLB playoff round that doesn’t exist… yet

BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 8: ESPN Sunday Night Baseball color commentator Alex Rodriguez poses from inside the Green Monster before a game between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees on September 8, 2019 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 8: ESPN Sunday Night Baseball color commentator Alex Rodriguez poses from inside the Green Monster before a game between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees on September 8, 2019 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images) /
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ESPN is nearing an exclusive TV rights deal for the first round of the MLB playoffs.

According to reports from The New York Post, ESPN is closing in on an exclusive TV rights deal to air the first round of the MLB playoffs. This, of course, is an interesting headline. Why’s that?

Well, currently, the first round of the MLB playoffs does not officially exist, yet. Last year, due to the unique circumstances from the pandemic-shortened season, the MLB agreed to an expanded postseason. The rule changed increased the number of playoff teams from 10 to 16. And, created the first round.

The first round operated as a best-of-three Wild Card Series ahead of the Division Series. Both ESPN and TBS aired this year’s first round.

So where do we currently stand? The league and the MLB Players Association still needs to negotiate an expanded postseason. Media has speculated that the two sides will eventually agree to an expanded postseason including 14 teams, and the official creation of a first round.

This is where the ESPN deal comes into play. Of course, there’s still no concrete timeline of when the potential expanded postseason would begin.

So, with that being said, let’s get into the finer details of ESPN’s new TV rights deal. According to sources, the full deal goes into place beginning in the 2022 campaign. There, however, exists a rider in the deal that would allow ESPN to immediately air the first-round series if agreed by league constituents for next year.

The deal also includes several changes to ESPN’s current regular-season airing schedule. The national broadcast station will air fewer regular-season matchups and instead focus on more marquee games. Instead of 90 regular-season games, the network will only broadcast around 30 or 40.

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It’s still a waiting game to see if the league and players association will agree to any major rule changes moving forward. Some of the most popular options moving forward include the expanded postseason and the universal DH rule. It’s easy to speculate that the news of this TV rights deal makes the expanded postseason seem more likely than ever before.