July 24, 2014

World Series Start Times: MLB’s Shortsighted Gamble

October 25, 2013 by · 5 Comments 

Woe to the child sports fan who has the misfortune of living in the Eastern Time Zone.  The 2013 World Series is only two games old, and I doubt there’s a kid on the East Coast under the age of 16 who’s watched beyond the 8th inning of either game.  Both games began at 8:07PM EST and lasted in excess of 3 hours.  These start times are slightly earlier than the 2008 series, when games didn’t start until 8:29 and 8:37, but the MLB and FOX ought to look at more dramatic changes if the health of baseball is to be considered over immediate financial gains.

In 2009, Bud Selig said, “Our goal is to schedule games to allow the largest number of people to watch.”  With a country as vast as the U.S., this goal is unquestionably a tricky balancing act.

The approximate makeup of the United States by time zone is as follows:

Eastern…………………..47.0%

Central……………………32.9%

Mountain…………………..5.4%

Pacific…………………….14.1%

Alaska and Hawaii……….0.6 %

Assuming children are distributed in the same proportions as the overall population, this means that 80 percent of kids would have had to stay up after 10PM to finish games one and two of this year’s World Series, with nearly half having to stay up after 11PM.  Couple this with the fact that this year’s representative cities are located in the Central and Eastern time zones, and it’s easy to see that the goal of scheduling “games to allow the largest number of people to watch” probably isn’t being achieved, especially among young fans.

All this is in light of recent evidence that baseball’s popularity is decreasing among our youth.  Google the phrase “popularity of baseball kids decreasing” and see what comes up.  It’s doubtful that a child who doesn’t care about baseball today is going to start investing time and money into the sport as an adult, so why not make it easier for kids to actually watch the games right now?

World Series games used to be held in the daytime, also not an ideal scenario for kids since many of these games were played during school hours.  But in the 70s and early 80s, there seemed to be a nice balance: weekday games took place during the evening (albeit a little too late at times), and weekend games were often played during the day.

In 1982, when the Milwaukee Brewers made the series, I was fourteen years-old, and I watched every game in its entirety, even attending game five (without parents!).  Start times were as follows (all times CST)

Game 1, Tuesday, 7:30

Game 2, Wednesday, 7:20

Game 3, Friday, 7:30

Game 4, Saturday, 12:20

Game 5, Sunday, 3:45

Game 6, Tuesday, 7:20

Game 7, Wednesday, 7:20

Push the weekday start times to 7PM CST for the East Coast fans, and I’d say that’s a pretty perfect schedule.  As it was, both teams were from the Central Time Zone, so the start times were ideal for the most interested fans.  Unfortunately, short-term greed changed things, and the last day game played in a World Series was game 6 of 1987.

In light of the recent downturn in popularity, Major League Baseball should consider the following:

1)      Incorporate flexibility in the schedule so that start times can be adjusted based on who’s playing in the series.  In 2008, two East Coast teams played each other, and games didn’t start until around 8:30 EST – absolutely ridiculous.  Games could easily have started an hour to an hour and a half earlier while still attracting the primary audience.  Last year’s series between San Francisco and Detroit was perhaps best served with the 8:00 EST.

2)      If flexibility is impossible, schedule start times that favor the Central and Eastern time zones, since these zones not only comprise 80% of the country’s population, but 73% of Major League Baseball teams.  It’s true that a West Coast series like in 1989 could make things challenging.  But I argue that even a 7:30 EST start time wouldn’t be catastrophic for this scenario.   Networks would still get to attract most of the country’s population, and a 4:30 local start time in the West isn’t as debilitating as it might have been years ago.  Internet access could allow working people to follow the games for the first few innings before returning home, kids would already be out of school, and most working adults could tune in live by the third inning or so.  TiVo and the like could be employed as well, and although fast-forwarding through commercials isn’t what Fox wants, it’s probably better than losing the East Coast entirely.

3)      Start weekend games earlier.  Why not take a cue from football and start the games at 6:30 EST like in recent Super Bowls?  True, the World Series isn’t the event that the Super Bowl is, but starting games an hour and half later certainly isn’t going to help turn it into one.

Folks who disagree with me will likely talk demographics, and how advertising dollars need to target the right audience.  I get this.  But will there even be an audience in 15 years if today’s children haven’t the ability to watch the games?

Sometimes a short-term loss is a long-term gain.

Comments

5 Responses to “World Series Start Times: MLB’s Shortsighted Gamble”
  1. Scott Bergquist says:

    It would certainly help if the World Series began the first week of October instead of the last week of October. The teams should go back to playing doubleheaders if that’s what it takes, but the playoffs between teams should be finished by end of September.

    Addressing your comments about the start of games, I agree it is truly absurd, simply because of greed, that games do not start earlier. Especially with “on demand” television, if someone wants to start watching at 8PM on the West Coast, they certainly have it in their power to delay news and begin watching when they wish, if the broadcasters would agree. Certainly the most venerated of events in Major League Baseball, the World Series, should be played in the most venerated of playing conditions, daytime baseball.

  2. Paul Heinz says:

    Early October day games! That would be terrific, though I’m afraid that ship has sailed. The best we can do is work with start times. OR, maybe one day we’ll get a blizzard when the Twins or Rockies make the series, and MLB will reconsider things.

    But you’re absolutely right that on demand TV strengthens the argument for earlier start times. We no longer need to be watching games simultaneously.

  3. Jerry-NJ says:

    Not sure I understand… Five of the seven games in 1982 started later than 8:07 ET… I think it’s the length of games, not the start times, that are keeping kids from watching the end…

    “Push the weekday start times to 7PM CST for the East Coast fans” – that’s 8 pm ET… that’s what time the games are now…

  4. Austin says:

    Excellent analysis, which is why MLB will ignore it.

  5. Paul Heinz says:

    The length of games is certainly another aspect that could be discussed. I’d be curious to see how the average length of World Series games has changed over the years.

    Yes, the sentence of mine that you quoted might have you scratching your head, but if you read on to my three suggestions, I think my argument is clear:

    1) Have flexible start times based on who’s playing.
    2) If flexible times aren’t possible, then a 7:30 EST start time would work for the whole nation, even if West Coast teams are involved.
    3) Start weekend games earlier. No later than 6:30 EST. @Jerry-NJ -

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