Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Speeding up The Game

A friend shot an email off to a small group of baseball fans after staying up late for the AL Wild Card game that his Indians had the misfortune of losing. Here's the short chain where we discussed how to speed up the game and the future of baseball.


I may be getting old.  Scratch that, I am getting old.  That said, baseball games get over too late.  This, of course, is owed to two main factors; the games are too long and start too late.  Now, I love baseball, but am concerned about how games like last night's Cleveland/Tampa tilt affects the future of the game.  How does MLB expect to attract young fans when games are ending near midnight?  It's one thing to let your kid stay up that late on a school night once in a while (tonight's Browns game will likely end similarly late), but the MLB playoffs are EVERY night.  I don't have kids (yet), but it's hard to imagine my sister letting my nephew stay up that late to watch every Indians game, had they advanced.  She probably didn't let him stay up last night.  And that all assumes he actually wanted to stay up.  Doesn't MLB want 10 year old boys watching the playoffs?  I should think they do.
MLB needs to account for the short attention span of the next generation.  One of the great things about baseball is it's slow, almost lazy pace.  There is ample time to enjoy the sights and sounds of the ballpark, have a conversation, and think strategically about the game unfolding before you.  I don't need four hours of that, nor do I want four hours of that.  I would rejoice more over an Indians championship than I would any other Cleveland championship, but even I was getting restless during the game last night.  Again, sitting there for four hours is tough for me, let alone a ten year old kid raised in a world of constant stimulation. 
A few thoughts, none of which are original I'm sure.
1.  Start the games earlier.  This is an easy one.  Why not just start at the standard 7pm?  Ok, it's not in primetime and you can't charge as much for advertising.  Don't you make up for that by keeping more casual fans watching longer?  Who was watching at the end of last night's game?  Tampa fans, Cleveland fans, a few Boston fans, and even fewer plain 'ol fans of the game.  I'd even be up for starting games a little earlier (6:30?) so kids can actually watch the whole game.
2.  Pitch clock similar to a shot clock.  Joel Peralta last night was taking a ridiculous amount of time between pitches.  Walk around, stretch, resin bag, hyperventilate, pitch, repeat.  I wasn't timing it or anything, but I gotta think you could cut down the time between pitches pretty easily.  What's reasonable?  10 or 12 seconds?
3.  Limited pitching changes.  Last night's game had a nice pace until the pitching changes started and Tito started going with matchups in the 5th inning.  I'm least wild about this option, as playoff games are of critical importance and skippers ought to be able to make whatever decisions he thinks will best put his ballclub in a position to win.  Plus, it's possible that the second and third order effects of actually making the game longer.  Do fewer changes lead to more runs, which in turn take up more time?
What say ye fine gentlemen?


I'm an 'ol fan of the game, but without a rooting interest, I was lying on the couch rather than sitting up in a chair, hanging on each pitch like I've done in postseasons past when the New York Yankees are competing. As a result of my lounging state, I fell asleep in the 8th and woke up to the post game.

Thinking back to Yankee games - as long as they are - playoff baseball isn't a ton of fun when it gets that late. God forbid it goes extra innings! But the stress levels of watching a game as a fan don't immediately evaporate after the final out, so it's not as if I'm passing out as soon as Rivera would ice the game. You're up later than normal watching, then winding down later than normal, so in bed 1-3 hours later. Baseball fans on the east are zombies the morning after playoff games and that's not a fun experience that makes me want to do it when my team isn't playing at all.

From the business perspective, as you mentioned, it's not primetime, but the bigger piece of it (I think) is people are still at work at 4p PT when a 7p ET game is starting and that's a big concern. Baseball already suffers from enough of an East Coast Bias (more than any othe sport, I believe), so starting the games earlier, while good for us, is bad for the West Coast. HOWEVA (stephen a. smith voice), Colin Cowherd makes a good point (just puked a little saying that), when he says college football is bigger in the South, which is often where better teams are, NBA hotter in the West and MLB more prominent in the northeast/midwest. Now, this is a chicken/egg situation for sure, but maybe it's not that bad if baseball says screw the west (for an ET game) and starts them at 7/730p. The casual fans in the west will still be able to tune in after work when the game is in the 4th or 5th. If I'm honest, that's more likely a time for me to tune into an early round game without my team in contention than I would in the 1st.

As far as accelerating the game, I like the pitch clock, but we need to make sure hitters also abide by those rules. Remember Nomar? Who's idiosyncratic pre-pitch routine involved re-velcroing his gloves, twirling his bat and a lot of gesticulation. There are plenty of guys who take a ton of time between pitches that are as guilty of delays as slow pitchers.

No league is going to do that makes them take in less money - no cutting seasons short, no starting games earlier and losing primetime slot, etc. without replacing the $$ elsewhere. So what other ways are there to raise revenue? More in-game ads on the broadcast is one idea. Listening to Yankee games, there is a promotion nearly every AB:
These are annoying, but they do two things: bring in new revenue and give advertisers a way to be heard DURING the action, not during commercials when people either A- tune out or B- flip channels/go to the bathroom, etc. Adding these in, along with visual cues in between pitches for TV broadcasts, creates more revenue, which means you might be able to start games earlier if you're pulling in ad dollars DURING the action and not just in breaks. Let's look at soccer.  MLB is favorite sport of purists and traditionalists, so I'd never advocate (or think it would happen) SAMSUNG across Indians jerseys and an interlocking TWC for TIME WARNER on Yankees caps, but there are no commercials during the uninterrupted 45 minute halves. There are usually score/ticker sponsors and often visual banners behind the goals that look real until you see a player step through them. Networks could add things like that (more than just the backstop ad) to get in more $$.

I'm at a 0 on limiting pitching changes. Just be thankful you can't bring pitchers back into games or imagine how annoying that would be.

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