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The Globe and Mail

MLB playoffs feature teams from markets of all sizes

The final piece of the Major League Baseball playoff puzzle falls into place tonight as the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles decide who gets a day off as AL East champs and who plays the wild card play-in game on Thursday. Ditto for Oakland and Texas as they resolve the AL West crown and wildcard status.

Sportsnet is planning coverage for both games on its regional networks around the Toronto Blue Jays' baleful season windup game against the Minnesota Twins (it's now 19 years since Toronto saw the playoffs). Sportsnet One will have the Yankees/ Red Sox game while Sportsnet Pacific will have the Rangers/A's game.

The 2012 MLB postseason is a blend of powerful economic teams such as the Yankees and Texas Rangers plus small and medium markets. The postseason presence of the A's, Orioles, Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals - all small media markets - belies the NHL mantra that only its salary cap system can produce parity. (MLB has a luxury-tax system with no minimum payrolls and moderate brakes on maximum payrolls.)

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Even as the NHL locks out its players for a third time in 19 years to retool its dysfunctional economic model, MLB is now lockout-free since the disaster of 1994. That constancy of content was a key factor in the new TV contracts it recently signed with FOX, ESPN and Turner in the U.S. that will bring MLB $1.55-billion a year in TV money, or approximately $50-million per team.

Broadcasters can be assured they'll get their programming and so pay accordingly. Sources say that, as a result, teams such as the Los Angeles Dodgers can reap up to $5-billion for their regional rights. Even the sad-sack San Diego Padres receive $ 1.2-billion for their regional rights.

NHL broadcasters are preaching business as usual as the lockout grinds along. But there is exasperation behind the scenes that, even as MLB prospers, the leadership of the NHL has left them in the lurch yet again as it tries to prop up its failing franchises. But with Canadian national TV rights on the agenda next year, no one will say what's in their hearts for fear of being frozen out of the lucrative content by the NHL.

Hockey Content: There will be some A, plus some O, Q and W. But don't go looking for any K any time soon. The Omega Code of hockey viewing in these lockout days means that, if you're starved for shinny, you'll be able to see minor league and junior hockey from North America but no elite hockey from Russia.

As reported earlier by Usual Suspects, Sportsnet is filling the gap left by the NHL locking out its players with Canadian Hockey League action from the Ontario, Quebec and Western Hockey Leagues. There will be a weekly Friday night national game on Sportsnet starting on Friday, Oct. 12 as the 2012 Western Hockey League champion Edmonton Oil Kings hosting their rivals from the south, Calgary Hitmen. From there games will rotate among the three major Junior leagues.

If the NHL decides to wipe out an entire season, Sportsnet will look at expanding its junior coverage.

In addition, Sportsnet is going to adding action from the American Hockey League, where NHL teams have parked a number of their younger stars until the lockout ends. So far, the games will be on a national, not regional, basis. Thus, if you're a Maple Leafs fan hoping to see all the Marlies games you'll be disappointed. Again, depending on the whims of Gary Bettman and Don Fehr, this may change as the season goes on.

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But anyone hoping to see a diet of games from Russia's Kontinental Hockey League is out of luck. TSN says it has no plans to show KHL games "although we'll look at highlights when appropriate for That's Hockey and SportsCentre," says TSN spokesman Greg McIsaac. Ironically, TSN's sister network, ESPN 3, which doesn't show NHL in the first place, says it will show KHL highlights and games as long as the lockout lasts.

NBCSN Falters: The executives at NBC Sports Network are hoping the lockout ends pronto. Since its high-water mark during the Olympics when its saw audiences of half a million viewers, NBCSN's ratings have crumbled. The idea was supposed to be that the London Games would introduce viewers to the former Versus (and before that Outdoor Life network). NBC hoped viewers would like the switch away from the old format of hunting and outdoor fare to studio productions.

But even the network's star programs featuring Bob Costas are wallowing below 40,000 viewers. Some offerings are getting weak four-figure ratings. NBCSN was hoping the return on the NHL might help, but now it's faced with the prospect of an entire season cancelled.

Cup Runneth Over: NBC was a lot happier with the ratings (if not the outcome) for the 39th Ryder Cup, also known as Paging Dr. Heimlich. The epic choke by the U.S. side on Sunday drew a 4.1 rating, the best rating since 1999 when it was the Americans doing the comeback on the Euros. That's up 71 percent since the 2010 RC in Wales and 21 per cent since the 2008 RC at Valhalla in Kentucky. While the Ryder Cup rating is only half of a Masters total, it's very impressive up against the Sunday afternoon juggernaut of NFL.

TSN saw its audience more than double for the Cup. The 2012 classic was the second-most watched Ryder Cup ever on Canadian TV.

Don't Go there: People, are always asking sports media to make predictions. Because we know. Allegedly. Usual Suspects has long been a predictions-free zone. In case you need to know why, here's ESPN's Gene Wojciechowski taking a bullet for us all on the Ryder Cup.

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For more don't-go-there, try this lunatic rant from Monday Night Football's Jon Gruden. ESPN gassed Ron Jaworski from MNF so we could get more of this from Gruden, whose chaps were apparently a bitt too tight. Best part is how he pumps the tires for Tony Romo just minutes before the Dallas QB launches five interceptions in the Cowboys' humiliating loss at home to Chicago.

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