Joel Maddon, manager of the Tampa Bay Rays, recently told reporters that game length isn’t a hurdle to bringing young fans to baseball. His comments came in the wake of a 3-hour, 28-minute tilt against the New York Yankees. It was the longest nine-inning, 1-0 game in the history of Major League Baseball.
“I really think that if all we’re worried about is length of the game regarding attracting young fans, I think that’s probably not the actual specific or most important reason. It’s a media-driven problem, I really believe that,” said Maddon.
Maddon is one hundred-percent correct. No one going to the ballpark cares if the game is two and half hours, three hours, or three and half hours long. No one goes to the ballpark and says “I hope this game is over in soon because I have somewhere to be.”
That’s not to say all MLB games should be umpteen hours long nor does it mean there should be a pitch clock. What it means is game length isn’t nearly as import as the pace of the game.
The reason why game lengths are even an issue is the news media. Baseball writers complain about game lengths because they have deadlines, they want to go home, and/or they are lazy. For the most part, fans don’t care about how long a game lasts.
Maddon went on to say that if you want to involve young fans you need to use technology. Technology may very well be the catalyst that lures young people away from football, basketball, and smart phones and back to the ballpark. However, the following five suggestions, that have little to do with technology, will definitely make baseball more attractive to the youth of America.
Truncate The Season
Baseball is the best game in the world… when the games counts. Unfortunately, you have to wait a long time for games to matter and when it does there’s this other league going on called the NFL. Maybe you’ve heard of it? Playing every day doesn’t fit into our hectic schedules.
To make the season more palatable to young people’s lifestyle, have teams play one four-game series a week (Thursday thru Sunday). This will greatly reduce the number of games played in a season but will greatly increase interest as every game will be important. Furthermore, it will be easier for teams to dodge the injury bullet, and with three days rests each week, pitching staffs will always be fresh.
World Series At A Neutral Location
The Super Bowl is a huge event. Part of the reason why it’s so huge is because everyone knows where it’s going to be played long before the season starts. You can’t say the same about the World Series. If Major League Baseball held the World Series at a neutral location then they could turn it into something like the Super Bowl.
They could incorporate Hall of Fame inductions, announce yearly awards, and generally celebrate the game. Needless to say, they will hold the World Series in cities and venues that will be immune to foul weather. Nothing kills the momentum of a World Series (i.e. television ratings) like a rain delay.
Start The Season With The All-Star Game
Most people don’t pay attention to baseball until after the All-Star break so why not start the season with the mid-summer classic. Fans can still vote for their favorite players but will do so after a full season not half of one. You can start the season with the All-Star Game and end it with the World Series. Those events will be great bookends.
There are fans of all ages who think there are too many MLB teams. Remember, in baseball’s heyday, the 1950s, there were only 16 franchises. When you talk about contraction you must talk about specific teams you’re going to eliminate. That’s difficult because after the obvious choices of the Florida teams, Seattle Mariners, and San Diego Padres you’re left with a bunch of tough decisions. So instead of eliminating teams just cut the league in two, an upper and lower tier.
Teams will be promoted between the two tiers based on their performance during the previous season. The upper tier teams will play for the honor of competing in the postseason while the lower tier teams will play for promotion into the upper tier. It will certainly make the end of the year interesting as more teams will have a carrot dangling in front of them. Also, this new alignment will soften the woes of teams in the rebuilding process and reward franchises that are competitive year-in and year-out.
Teach The Game
I stand by my previous four suggestions. I know they’re radical, and an affront to tradition, but they will definitely change the game (for the better). Of course, you wouldn’t need any of my extreme proposals if kids were actually taught the game of baseball. Baseball is not like football or basketball. It’s steeped in nuisance. It takes thirty seconds to learn the game of basketball and minutes to figure out the basic of football, but you have to be taught baseball.
Unfortunately, there are fewer and fewer people capable of teaching it. Maybe this is where technology can be used. MLB can use technology to teach young people all about the game. Technology is causing the death of the concert ticket, the newspaper, and face-to-face conversation but maybe it can reinvigorate the National Pastime. Maybe technology can teach a generation of young people how to play the ball.