With attendance down, baseball looks to shorten games to keep fan interest.
Major League Baseball’s new commissioner is conducting a review of the game and once again, the pace of play is one of the issues in the forefront, with some saying that radical changes to America’s Pastime need to be enacted.
Commissioner Rob Manfred says they are looking at a number of changes to pick up the pace, including the institution of a pitcher’s clock, already in use in the minor leagues, giving the pitcher 20 seconds to throw the next pitch, limiting the number of shifts being used by the defense, and shrinking the strike zone to generate more offense.
Games are lasting about 12 minutes longer than they were in 2006, according to a USA Today article on the subject, running at a pace of about three hours for a typical nine-inning contest.
As a life-long fan of the sport, I really don’t see the 12 minutes as a call to action, but I also realize that the world in which baseball existed 50 years ago has changed radically, and as someone once said, baseball has remained the constant. Today’s fans are not willing to invest three hours of their time to a game, as did their predecessors.
Back in the day of all-white players, day games, and wearing coats and ties in the stands, baseball was not viewed as something that merely held your attention until the next activity. Baseball was the activity, and fans turned out to watch their local teams and their favorite players and as the song says, they didn’t care if they ever got back.
If you haven’t been to a game in a while, the fan base just isn’t the same. Going to a baseball game is now a social event that happens to have a game going in in the background for many fans. Especially, those with younger fans. Ballparks have separate entertainment venues for the younger fans and, coupled with the ballpark dining experience, some fans only actually watch the game for a few of the nine innings played.
And unless there is a no-hitter in progress, or something similarly spectacular event being anticipated, about a quarter of the fans begin to leave in the 7th inning, to beat the crowds and traffic. By the ninth, many times half of the crowd has already left, with just the die-hard fans still in attendance.