CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - With media making light of Major League Baseball throwing a curveball at the Canadian electorate, many experts still see the match scheduled to start about 90 minutes before most polls close as a potential game-changer.
Game three of the American League Championship Series between the Toronto Blue Jays and Kansas City Royals starts at 8 p.m. ET (0000 GMT) on Oct. 19, and may keep voters at home as the ruling right-leaning Conservatives face a tight battle with the centrist Liberals and the left-leaning New Democrats.
Toronto's playoff run is the first taste of post-season baseball in Canada since the Blue Jays last won the World Series in 1993, coinciding with another general election in Canada that saw the Liberals defeat a previous Conservative government.
"The sports people aren't worried about the election crowding them out," said Dennis Pilon, a political science professor from York University. "It's the other way around. Politicians are really worried that anything that could deter voters or distract them is bad."
Pilon said he got a taste of playoff fever when he was scheduled to deliver a lecture about politics at a Toronto pub on Wednesday during the decisive fifth game of the Blue Jays division series. His talk was delayed until after the game.
Some 11.5 million Canadians tuned in for at least part of that game, a sports network executive estimated, vastly more than the roughly 3.6 million - out of 26.4 million eligible voters - that Canada's election agency estimates have voted in advance polls.
Pollster Darrell Bricker from Ipsos Public Affairs said that the game may give Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper an advantage on election night since Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has significant support among younger Canadians who are already less likely to vote. Anything that keeps them away from the polls is likely to help the Conservatives, Bricker said.
"They (Liberals) are very enthusiastic about this particular leader and this election, but they don't have a habit of voting," Bricker said.
The agency overseeing the vote, Elections Canada, said it would not stop voters from monitoring the game on smartphones while waiting in line at the polls, provided they do so peacefully.
"In other words, if someone is cheering wildly, or causing a scene as they watch the game on their phone, they will be asked to put their phones away," spokeswoman Leanne Nyirfa said.
Editing by Louise Ireland