Maybe The Games Start Too Late?

Recently the NY Times  posed a request to its reporters and readers: “Help Us Fix Baseball.”

The responses primarily focused on pace of play and length of games as pain points needing fixing.

However, one issue that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention is the time of day games are played—and the fact that many games start later than they should. Blame is usually assigned to television and the huge role TV money plays in the economic strength of Major League Baseball. This is short-sighted thinking at best, cheating many fans of the opportunity to enjoy key games, and more importantly, to enjoy them at the ballpark.

Outside of the playoffs and the World Series where scheduling is completely off the rails, the most egregious scheduling example is ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball when games start after 8 PM Eastern. For most people on the east coast, this means the game will end after 11, sometimes well after that considering that these broadcasts include extended commercial breaks. Forget about seeing this game in person if you’ve got school or work the next morning—you’ll be lucky if you can stay awake at home. Meanwhile, on the west coast these games cut right into the middle of most people’s Sunday evenings, running from 5 PM on. Senseless.

While I don’t doubt that there’s some algorithm in ESPN’s databanks showing that this time slot guarantees the highest ratings, it’s far from ideal for many in the most populated areas of the country. And yes, this Sunday night game only occurs once a week, but unlike football with its Monday nights, baseball games are played every day of the week. Baseball is not appointment viewing for the most part.

Equally concerning are weekend night games, particularly in northern cities that are bound to experience cold temperatures. Citi Field in April and May is frigid most evenings (I can’t imagine what Fenway is like) and a 7 PM game can be torturous. Plus, it’s not exactly the best way to get the kids hooked on America’s beloved pastime. Even if the young ones stay awake late enough, they’ll probably be popsicles. Again, I’m sure the local and regional cable companies who carry most of these games have wonderful algorithms, but these only go so far, and they don’t take into account the experience of going to the ballpark—a big part of baseball’s charm and what gets people hooked. “I don’t care if I ever get back,” ring a bell anyone?

Needless to say, most weekday games are scheduled at night as well, and while I could quibble with this to some degree, I’d consider it an acceptable tradeoff if most Saturday and Sunday games started at a time when people of all ages could enjoy them on TV—and at the ballpark. If you want the next generation to tune in and commit to the game, you need to give them a reason. Without them, MLB can kiss its TV money goodbye sooner or later. In fact, based on millennial viewing habits, MLB might want to hedge its bets regardless. Like I said, short sighted.