Major League Baseball has put forth several proposals for improving pace of play, including a 20-second pitch clock and limiting mound visits. Most of these potential changes are aimed at reducing average game time, but that’s not really the goal. I mean, it is, but the actual length of the game should be an ancillary benefit if pace is improved.
Think about it: How many times have you witnessed a game that felt like a slog because nothing really happened, but you were entranced by a four-hour contest that features tons of action. By its very nature, baseball is going to have more lulls than other sports. You have at least three batters every inning, each of which figures to face several pitches, then the teams have to switch places and do it all over again.
The advent of televised baseball brought with it longer breaks between innings as broadcast partners needed to run ads to generate revenue. As those revenues have grown to represent a massive chunk of MLB’s reported $10.3 billion windfall last season, the breaks between innings and during pitching changes have grown longer.
Then you’ve got the increased specialization within the game itself, which means even more pitching changes. By the time you get to the end of the game, that could mean multiple TV breaks per inning in addition to the regularly-scheduled breaks between frames.
“[Shortening breaks] continues to be something we’re looking at and could be in place by this season,” Commissioner Rob Manfred told Maury Brown of Forbes.
Manfred credited shorter inning breaks for cutting nearly 5 minutes from the average game time last season, but he believes there’s more to be done. Of course, any reduction in dedicated ad time would have to be negotiated with broadcast partners, which means more creative solutions to provide opportunities to hawk the products that pay the bills.
You no doubt saw that during the playoffs last season, or during NFL broadcasts, when a picture-in-picture ad would play during lulls. In some cases, the ads are simply worked right into the live broadcast itself and a company will sponsor replays or pitching changes. And thinking back to Sunday Night Football in particular, Tide designed ads to feel like the live broadcast by using the actual announcers and simulating game situations.
Brown wrote that he has not heard of specific plans, but that the double-box method could be used during pitching changes. While such a strategy won’t necessarily shave precious seconds from the length of a game, it does keep viewers more engaged and could improve pace.
More than silly contrivances and rules structures to hurry play along, a change like this could be beneficial to everyone involved. Fans shouldn’t be forced to sit through long periods of inactivity just because the game is on national television. Same for the players, who likewise want to get on to the next inning or at-bat.
The key to these changes being truly effective won’t be that games are actually shorter in terms of what the clock says, but that they feel shorter. And if that means showing more PIP ads instead of putting a runner on second in extra innings, I’m all for it.