Last year the NFL’s ratings went down nine percent during the regular season, and six percent throughout the playoffs. There were many excuses tossed around after the decline, including the election and a Tom Brady-less start to the season. The NFL made efforts to gain back its viewers with Thursday Night games streaming for free through Twitter, but clearly that didn’t work out.
Though professional leagues are constantly trying to increase their viewership, now is an even better time than ever to expand their demographic. With one league’s viewership taking a major dip, other leagues will look to appeal to new audiences.
This is a potential reason behind why the MLB has been pushing pace of play changes lately. A huge complaint about baseball is that the games are incredibly long, and therefore boring. Though I can’t disagree that baseball is a rather long game, I also happen to love the sport. I’m fine with the league making some gameplay changes that aim to trim a few minutes off the clock, but I have a serious problem with some proposed changes that entirely alter the game. Attempting to speed up the pace of play in order to appeal to a new demographic might actually drive away current viewers who enjoy the sport exactly the way it is.
Some modifications have already been made for the upcoming major league season, while others are still in the testing stage at the minor league level.
Starting in 2017, intentional walks are still legal, but pitchers no longer have to throw four lobs to their standing catcher to do so. Replacing those four pitches will be a signal from the manager to the home plate umpire, prompting the batter to be sent to first base. This isn’t a deal breaker for me, but I’m not a huge fan. Pitchers can be easily spooked, and tossing four un-hittable pitches while staring down a home-run smashing designated hitter isn’t necessarily an easy task. The long tosses to the catcher could easily turn into wild pitches allowing runners to advance or worse, one floating right over the center of the plate. How long does it even take to throw four pitches? If you’re telling me that the time saved by erasing four pitches is what’s keeping you from watching MLB games then I’ve got news for you: I don’t think you like baseball.
Another rule modification imposed for this upcoming season is the 30-second limit given to managers to decide whether or not to challenge a play. The addition of replay review is already slightly maddening to me, but that’s not going anywhere. Half a minute is more than enough time to decide if you’re challenging a play, so this one I’m OK with.
Perhaps the most ridiculous change being proposed has to do with extra innings. Starting in the minors this year, extra innings will begin with a runner already on second. So we’re going to make scrappy changes to the nine innings preceding extras, then speed up perhaps the most exciting part of the entire game? Got it. This is a rule that I’m hoping crashes and burns in the minors and never finds its way to the big league.
Am I opposed to imposing some rules to speed things up? Absolutely not. Am I opposed to changing the actual game for the sake of potentially gaining a few viewers? You bet. I’m all for giving baseball more attention and increasing the audience, as long as the sport I love doesn’t have to suffer. Perhaps the league should stop chasing people down on Twitter for sharing videos of their games, and allow for interest to generate online. Let’s give batters less time to step out of the box, get rid of the painstakingly long replay reviews, and maybe take fewer television timeouts to speed things up. If it takes a ton of changes and shaving minutes off the clock for you to enjoy watching MLB games, then baseball just might not be for you.