Saturday, May 23, 2009

Why Inter-league Play Makes Sense

I am of a mixed mind about the inclusion of inter-league play and find the usual arguments about some teams being at a disadvantage rather banal. Sure it might not seem fair for one team to face the tougher teams in an opposing division while some other team gets the dredges, but that happens all over the schedule. Besides this, there are always NL teams playing with themselves because of the fair more imbalanced 14 AL teams to 16 NL teams. When you have 4 divisions with 5 teams but 1 division with 4 and another with 6, things are wrong. When you have teams playing 18 teams against the teams in their division, but only 6 against other intra-league and 6 against their inter-league rival, things are wronger. Anyway, I don't mind the games because there is so much other crap that is wrong that the inter-league part seems trivial.

What I have heard spouted this year is how successful interleague play is despite fan, player and manager complaints. What I have yet to hear is an actual satisfactory explanation for this. With this in mind, I came up with my own plausible theory.

Being an out of region fan means taking advantage of every opportunity to see the teams I follow. Because I choose not to get the MLB package, I can't see every game all the time, but I can see the games where my team plays the local team(s). I believe the boost in attendance for inter-league games comes from the displaced fan. I know my brother has rarely been as excited as last year when his favorite team (Red Sox) came to visit the hometown Reds. In fact, he made it to all 3 games of the series. I think this happens all over. There's a good chance I'll be visiting a friend in Washington and will end up at the Red Sox-Nationals game this summer. It is not because the Red Sox-Nationals matchup is intriguing. It is solely because the friend I'm visiting is a Sox fan and will take advantage of seeing the team in his new hometown park. The out of region fan is the main reason that MLB keeps seeing gate revenue spikes and it seems to me to be a smart move financially.

All of the matchups that get listed as the reason that inter-league sucks are matchups between low attendance teams or, at the least, poorly playing teams. The worst thing that happens to those matchup gate revenues is that they stay the same. For the season ticket holder, they are going to the games regardless of the matchup. Same with the most casual fans, who tend to plan their games based on the date or the opportunity, not on the visiting team. As more and more teams see gate spikes for the most favored nations (Yanks, Sox, Dodgers), they realized that if they put something novel out there, there's a chance they will reach a market that they would not have otherwise. At worst, the teams see their usual attendance. At best, they get a spike from the displaced fan.

No comments: