World Series Start Times: MLB's Shortsighted Gamble
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:
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.