Don’t Believe Everything You Hear About MLB, But Here are Five Changes to Consider
By Cam Giangrande
Last season MLB games averaged three hours and nine minutes. NFL games averaged 3:11. Baseball plays their games essentially in the same window of time as football does, yet MLB is under siege to shorten their games. Since the day he took over for Bud Selig, commissioner Rob Manfred’s mission has been to shorten the time of games. His argument is that longer games hurt attendance and television ratings.
Television ratings are down as is attendance and “pace of play” is the scapegoat. Somehow, just shaving 10-15 minutes off a game will put more fannies in the seats or in front of their televisions. It’s not that simple, and far more complex than just one issue. In looking at the demographics of the game, we’re told that MLB has the oldest viewership; and that it’s a problem. The average age of a person watching a baseball game is 53, while the NFL is 47 years old, and the NBA is under 40, at 37 years of age.
In 1980, the average viewer was in their late 40s; today it’s 53 years old. However, the lifespan of a person was 72 years old in 1980, whereas today it’s 78 years old. The population in general is getting older, so of course the age of viewers is getting older too.
We’re told attendance is down. That’s true in recent years, but it has nothing to do with pace of play. If we again compare figures with 1980, the numbers are startling. To begin with, there were only 26 teams compared to 30 teams today; meaning the league was strong enough to expand. In 1980, only one team, (Dodgers) drew over three million people. Last season, seven teams did. In 1980, seven teams drew over two million people. Last season, 16 teams did. And, in 1980 three teams drew under a million people per game. In fact, the Minnesota Twins drew less than 10,000 people per game in 1980. Last season, no team drew under one million fans. And, if we put it in perspective, over 72 million people still went out to the old ballpark last season to watch a game.
— Sung Min Kim (@sung_minkim) March 1, 2018
We’re told television ratings are down. That may be true, but again, it has nothing to do with pace of play. In fact, the past two seasons had tremendous numbers in the playoffs, which produced epic World Series matchups. The fact is, the best way to hold ratings is to put a compelling and exciting team on the field. Markets who are content to “tank” shouldn’t expect to have good ratings. If a team starts the season 7-18, or 13-27, and is 12 games behind by Memorial Day, they can’t expect to fill the park, or have fans watching their product. It has nothing to do with pace of play. Or time of games.
We’re told revenue is down. FALSE! MLB has just surpassed 10 billion dollars in revenue and has seen increases for 15 consecutive seasons. We’re told kids aren’t playing the game anymore and aren’t interested in it. FALSE! This past August, Time Magazine’s cover story focused entirely on youth sports in this country and how they’ve become a 15 billion dollar, industry. Not all of that money is in youth baseball, but a good portion is.
When I was growing up in the early 80s, there weren’t year-round, state-of-the-art indoor facilities for a kid to work his craft. Living in the Northeast, we’d have to pray for an early thaw to get out and throw a ball around. We’d watch the kids playing in the Little League World Series and hope we could possibly get there. Today, with the evolution of traveling teams, it’s no big deal to travel to New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, or Florida if you’re a budding young 14 year-old superstar in the making…as long as mom and dad have the money to send you there. Places with names like RBI Academy or Baseball Heaven are popping up all across the country, with tens of thousands of kids from ages seven to 17 ready to be the next Bryce Harper. And speaking of Harper, wasn’t it Tom Verducci who put him on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and dubbed him, “The Chosen One”, as a 16 year-old baseball prodigy? That was only in 2009, less than a decade ago. Baseball still has some swag.
If Commissioner Manfred would like some tips how to fix what isn’t broken, I’ll help him out.
- Expand the league to 32 teams. Create four divisions with four teams in each division. Have them play each other more often generating more intense rivalries based on geography.
- With expansion to 32 teams, add one additional playoff team in each league from five to six. The extra playoff slot will keep more teams in the race deeper into the season, which will help attendance and television revenue.
- Due to expansion, reduce rosters to 24 players from the 25 there are today. Adding two new teams will generate an extra 48 players and subtracting one from the existing 30 teams will still create 18 additional MLB players. This may force teams to keep one less pitcher, which reduces pitching changes.
- In addition to a luxury tax, establish a salary floor. Come up with some ratio that a team with lower revenues can’t fall below. Something like: a team must stay within 25% of the league’s prior year’s average salary. If the league average was 160 million dollars in 2017, the lowest payroll a team could have heading into 2018 would be 120 million. This would create a more competitive game that can generate closer divisions with more teams in the playoff picture, which would increase interest, attendance, and television ratings.
- Start the games slightly sooner. Growing up, I can remember games starting at 7:35pm. Today, most of them start at 7:05pm. Move the games up 10 minutes to 6:55. This still gives plenty of time for the 9-5 worker to get to the ballpark during the summer, and makes it a bit easier to allow a child to stay up and watch an entire game.
Those are just five ideas to keep the game fresh and make it a more exciting product.
Please Commissioner Manfred, don’t do anything stupid or rash. You control the game that I and tens of millions of people love. The game isn’t broken, stop trying to fix it. Are there ways to make it an even better game? Absolutely! But they don’t include micromanaging mound visits, pitch clocks, or forcing batters to stay in the box.
I have no problem with reducing the amount of pitches from eight to six every inning a pitcher starts an inning, or replaces a pitcher during an inning. And I have no issue with shaving 15 seconds off each half inning coming in and out of commercials. But anything that fundamentally changes what happens between the lines should and must stay off limits.