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MLB Needs to Get Selling on Pace of Game

When you are as big and successful of an entity as Major League Baseball – not to mention having decades of anti-trust protection behind you – you don’t get in the habit of having to convince your employees, the media and even your customers – the fans – of anything.

You simply tell them what you are going to do and if they don’t like it, too bad.

That time-tested approach is not currently working well on the subject of pace of game. New commissioner Rob Manfred has done a much better job of getting people angry about his initiatives than he has been able to explain what is behind them in a convincing manner.

He’s just not used to it, probably.

On the media side, we have people like MLB.com’s Tracy Ringolsby hammering away. The long-time baseball writer is distancing himself from unnamed peers while tweeting repeatedly on the issue with comments such as this:

“Is concern about length of games a media created issue? If fans are upset the attendance totals don’t seem to show it.”

Even worse, a highly-respected manager in Joe Maddon of the Chicago Cubs is taking aim, as well. Again, “the media” is the supposed bogeyman.

“What is the purpose behind the faster game?” Maddon rhetorically asked SI.com’s Tom Verducci. “I’m not really clear on that. So that, I don’t understand.

“To me, I think it’s more of a media kind of thing — probably deadlines at the end of the night based on more items being carried simultaneously as opposed to the newspaper the next day. It has to be tied into that somehow.

“Little Joey, 10 years old, wishes the game is four hours. I was wishing for extra innings every night. I never cared about how long a baseball game was. Listening to it on the radio or watching it on TV, [I was] hoping it goes longer,” Maddon said.

Now, let’s step back and consider motivations, starting at the top with Manfred.

I don’t believe for one second that the new commissioner cares what the media thinks about length of games. He cares about money – and the contracts his game are knocking down from the television networks are more staggering by the year.

My sense is that like any successful business, MLB is looking to the future. How will they continue to grow their revenues?

They likely have tons of market intelligence that slices and dices the opinions and behaviors of various demographic segments of their target audiences – factors like geography, income levels and the like. Yes, age is a big factor.

The data probably shows that MLB’s grip on fans’ wallets has a very strong correlation with an aging fan base. MLB likely understands that it is losing the interest of younger fans to other sports and wants to do something concrete about it.

By the time today’s “Little Joey” isn’t being taken to games by his Dad or Grandpa anymore and has to decide where to spend his entertainment dollar, it likely is not going to Major League Baseball.

If my experience talking with younger people is any indication, pace of game is a legitimate issue with many of them. I don’t know if it is number one or number 10 on the list of concerns, but I am pretty sure MLB does.

Even though I am personally not overly worked up about pace of game, I readily understand that my generation is not the target audience. We made our decisions on which sports to follow and how long ago.

I also know better than to try to oversimplify like Maddon is doing with his “Little Joey” reminiscing and Ringolsby is doing by citing yesterday’s attendance figures as supposed evidence that nothing should change for tomorrow.

Well-known people in the game like these two may have the pulpit, but that does not necessarily mean they are informed. Yet Maddon says he wants to understand, so why isn’t anyone telling him?

MLB needs to get off its rear end and explain to both the media and their own employees why they should care about what younger fans think before it is too late – assuming they have the data to back it up. And if I am wrong and they don’t, then they should either get their story straight or get off the issue completely.

For the record, Maddon recently celebrated his 61st birthday. In other words, he was 10 years old over a half century ago. Ringolsby is in his 40th year writing about baseball. By the time the “Little Joey” of 2015 is old enough to decide where to spend his hard-earned entertainment money, they’ll be long gone.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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53 Responses to “MLB Needs to Get Selling on Pace of Game”

  1. crdswmn says:

    But how short do the games have to be to get this demographic interested? So, short that it turns the game into a joke of itself? I have been around high schools students going on 3 years now, and I can verify that most of them have the attention span of a gnat on speed. If it doesn’t move at the speed of a video game, they aren’t interested. Also, the more visceral and violent the better. So in addition to making the game move faster, they may have to allow the players to get into scrums and exchange blows on a regular basis.

    I am all for getting them interested; I just doubt that it is possible.

  2. Nutlaw says:

    I’m not sure what the downside to shorter games is supposed to be for the fans? It’s not as though it would mean less baseball. They still play nine innings. Everyone just has less time sitting around in between the action.

    Three hours a night is a lot of time to invest in sitting around watching anything! I understand that people can put up with, say, watching Skip Schumaker ritualistically removing half of his gear and resetting it after every pitch, but I don’t know why someone would actively want to sit and watch that. What entertainment value does that provide?

  3. blingboy says:

    Nutlaw says:
    February 11, 2015 at 7:12 pm
    I’m not sure what the downside to shorter games is supposed to be for the fans?

    That depends on what they do to shorten the games.

  4. Brian Walton says:

    Point reinforced. Two different generations just posted! 😉

  5. crdswmn says:

    Do young people actually have conversations anymore, you know, the kind where their lips move and not their fingers on a keyboard using bad grammar that makes them look dumber than a box of rocks?

    I can quite happily sit for a few minutes between innings and converse with complete strangers about many topics. I have had some quite pleasant and interesting conversations with strangers at a baseball game.

    Hmph. 😉

  6. Bw52 says:

    Just leave the damn game alone.Kids today are not going to be interested in baseball because its not bloody,have crashes,explosions,fights or bulletsKids like Action………..basketball,football.Plus how often do you see kids outside throwng a baseball around or a pickup game in a empty lot of field?Kids can get 3 friends and play 2 on 2 playing basketball.Or you can just shoot around with a basketball goal.Unless a kid plays the game in a league or is a big fan baseball is too boring to them.Baseball is a ‘OLD MANS GAME’.That`s the quote I get from kids in their teeens and 20`s.

    • Brian Walton says:

      Man, I hope none of those kids accidentally step on your lawn! 😉

      • crdswmn says:

        Well that is a pretty hot take, but he has something of a point. Perhaps shortening the game is not the best way to get the younger generation interested in baseball. Perhaps making the ability to play the game as a kid easier would work better. More leagues for kids to play in with facilities for them to play in. My love of baseball as a girl got started by being immersed in little league play through my father and my brothers. Back in the 60s and 70s, there were local leagues everywhere even in my small community.

        • Brian Walton says:

          Like in addressing most complicated issues, I do not see potential actions as “either/or.” To pull this off, I imagine a lot of things need to be done, not just one or two. I get why priorities have to be set in any endeavor, but MLB has the resources to invest.

          • crdswmn says:

            I don’t disagree. But I question whether MLB will set their priorities correctly. As an older fan I can tolerate some tweaks to the game, little things to cut some time off. What I worry about is that in an effort to increase one demographic, they lose another. There are only so many changes that can be made before a point is reached where the game becomes unwatchable to older fans like me. I hope they don’t cross that line.

  7. Nutlaw says:

    What potential changes to shorten the game does everyone have concerns over? The ones that I’ve heard revolve around not letting the batter step out of the box and making pitchers actually throw a pitch within a shorter amount of time. Is something lost by not allowing the battery to agonize over pitch selection?

  8. Brian Walton says:

    The linked-to piece is a very interesting article on its own, but it took until the very last paragraph for me to find the tie-in to this story that I was looking for.

    Conclusion: MLB both wants more scoring and faster games. More pressure to remove the filler.

    Sources: MLB could alter strike zone as response to declining offense.

  9. Brian Walton says:

    I did not see this article initially, but a few weeks ago, a Fangraphs writer pulled together a large amount of data. It shows that just a 20-second pitch clock alone would cut eight percent or 14.5 minutes off the length of the average MLB game.

    I was at the Arizona Fall League when the clock was used. Pitching coaches did not like it, but once it became routine, it was totally in the background.

    Here is the article.

  10. JumboShrimp says:

    For the health of the sport, attention needs to be paid to appealing to young fans.

    One way to do this is to score more runs. Pitching duels are ok, in their way, but not 162 of them per season. People loved Mark McGwire’s HR binge seasons. We love some offense, not watching strikeouts. To boost scoring, they either need to lower the mound or juice the ball a little. I would favor both.

    I agree with time limits on throwing pitches. Don’t let any batters step out of the box. Its a waste of everybody’s time for time delay between pitches.

    Good pitching beats good hitting is an old adage. With improvements in scouting and in player development and use, pitchers are in the ascendency. They throw fewer innings or there are many more of them who can throw hard. They are overpowering hitters. The solutions are lowering mounds and juicing balls.

    • JumboShrimp says:

      Or narrow the stickezone.

    • JumboShrimp says:

      Everyone starts from about the same place, born without knowledge. This was true of the Baby Boom generation (including myself) and of young people today. There is not anything different among the generations in terms of their biological starting points along the pathway of life.

      The pace of contemporary life is probably faster and more stressful today. The economy is not as good, so there is more economic insecurity and people have to work hard, often for less pay. This can explain why people have less time today to slow down and smell the roses. They just do not have the same amount of disposable time.

      Those in the entertainment industry adjust to this with louder hype. In football, for instance, changes in the rules have boosted the passing game, so passing is routine in a way that it was not decades ago. This years Super Bowl was decided on the unlikely play of a one yard pass attempt. Its now, more passing, all the time. And a reason for this is it makes the game more interesting for fans, versus lots of fullback up the middle plays.

      For the economic health of MLB, it makes huge sense to cultivate the young. Encourage their interest during youth, in hopes they will learn to appreciate and enjoy the game during the decades ahead. I developed my own interest in baseball during the 1960s and it has stuck with me. So it must be for many others.

      • Bw52 says:

        I don`t think todays kids want to spend the time working on the boring game of baseball.How many good athletes stick to basketball because they don`t want to spend years in the minors playing for little money riding the buses.A kid playing basketball in college can leave after 1 year and enter the draft if good enough.At worst they can go overseas and play and make good money.Baseball you either sign after highschool or have to wait 3 years to be drafted.Baseball is 3rd behind football and basketball and probably will be from now on.I think baseball is the hardest sport to get to the top and stay there.Baseball is the only sport I can think of that has guys playing into their 30`s still trying to get to the big leagues.Football players might tryout maybe 3 or 4 years with different teams but most are done after that.NBA has several developmental leagues that have some guys hanging around for a few years still trying to get in the league but its mostly younger players.I think baseball is the hardest sport of the big 3 to excel in.You have to be able to either pitch good enough to stop another good player or be good enough to hit another good pitcher.A big strong guy can be taught to block and tackle…………………..several NFL Tight Ends where former college basketball players.How many Basketball stars turned into baseball stars? Danny Ainge tried and failed ,Dave DeBuschere NBA star,MLB flop,Gene Conley NBA player,MLB Starting pitcher Red Sox,.Bo Jackson was a highlight reel player in NFL and MLB but besides monster HRs,great throws he put up very average numbers.He was still fun to watch.Point is baseball is a very hard game to master and I don`t think younger generation as a whole will try or care about the game.

  11. Brian Walton says:

    Interesting comment in this article from Sports on Earth/MLB.com, in which Cards are said to have the 5th-best defense in baseball.

    “The metrics have even come to shine favorably on shortstop Jhonny Peralta, who has been put in a better position to succeed by the expanded use of shifts.”

  12. Brian Walton says:

    A lot of complicated issues for Manfred to tackle. Andrew McCutchen discusses one, the difficulties lower-income kids face in playing baseball and why they migrate to other sports.

  13. blingboy says:

    I wonder if anyone has considered the effect on the cost of attending baseball games on the number of games attended by kids. I used lawn mowing money to fund bus tickets downtown and bleacher tickets all summer. Lots of kids did essentially the same thing. A lot of ordinary working class families has a share of season tickets back then. Kids had lots of opportunity to attend lots of games. Not so today. Its just a TV show to most of them. I can see how it may not seem that great.

    • Brian Walton says:

      Cost of attendance has to be a factor. I used to look at the Fan Cost Index each year and if I recall correctly, the rough cost of a family of four to attend a game was well over $200.

      • blingboy says:

        Exactly. Its not for kids anymore however many runs get scored and however long or short the games are. Its just a TV show, one of many. The players are characters on the show, no different from the characters on any other show.

        It does not follow necessarily that these kids will not fill the seats when they are middle aged. But I can see where it seems likely they will not sit in front of the TV for 3 hours most evenings for 6 months of the year when they reach the age demographic that advertisers will pay for. The problem is, no TV show is going to get that kind of commitment however action packed it may be. That is the thing that is not appreciated IMO.

    • crdswmn says:

      I don’t have a problem with the minor changes. If it speeds up the Edwin Jacksons of the baseball world and keeps the Skip Schumakers in the batters box, that will be alright with me.

      Whether it has any affect of increasing young fans, I have serious doubts about that.

  14. Brian Walton says:

    In case folks haven’t read enough about it already, I posted an article about the changes agreed to for 2015.

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