MLB Should Re-Calibrate First Pitch Times
As part of the new CBA, baseball teams are going to play the other 29 teams this season. There are a number of ramifications from this including playing fewer games against divisional rivals, but it also means more games out of a team’s time zone.
For example, last season, the New York Mets played 22 road games against NL and AL West opponents. That was partially the result of the Mets playing the AL West in interleague play. Back in 2021, the Mets had only played 16 games against western division opponents.
Those extra six games may not seem as much, but that’s an extra week of 10 PM starts. Typically speaking, that means many fans will struggle to stay awake for consecutive games and will likely miss them all together. Certainly, that will be the case for children, i.e. the demographic Major League Baseball is purportedly targeting to make lifelong baseball fans.
Well, that 22 game number seems to be staying. In 2023, the Mets will again play 22 games against western division opponents. That means later and later starts meaning fewer and fewer fans able to watch the game. On the inverse, that also means fans from the west coast will miss part of east coast games because they will still be at work and school.
This is not remotely a beneficial situation for anyone. Sure, it will be exciting to see more of Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani in addition to other baseball superstars in the NL and AL West. However, if those games are so late, the Mets playing them makes the goals sought completely obsolete.
Of course, this should have been part of an MLB feasibility study. Apparently, it wasn’t, and now, we’re left to see how MLB will react to a move which will ultimately turn fans away from games for a day or two or for a full week of games. Really, this is what baseball wants to avoid.
To that end, perhaps, baseball should seek to normalize start times to try to attract as many fans to those games as possible. For starters, every non-Sunday Night Baseball game on the west coast should be a day game to permit baseball fans from both fans to watch the games. For example, a 1PM start time on the west coast is a very manageable 4 PM start time on the east coast.
Weekday games are more difficult. If there is a day game, nothing needs to be changed. As noted above, the 1 PM west coast start time works well for the east coast. The real issue is the 7 PM PST start times. You’re eliminating a significant part of the audience for a 10 PM first pitch, and there’s a greater attrition as the games go deeper into the night and early morning hours.
Moving to a 6 PM PST start time is a little bit more manageable on the east coast and will attract some additional viewers. A 5 PM PST start time would be perfect for east coast viewers, but that is way too early for west coast fans to get to the ballpark. Maybe, they can split the difference and have a 5:30 start time. Of course, that is also difficult.
In the end, the answer may just be a hybrid approach. Permit the west coast teams to have 1-2 7 PM PST start times, but they need to adjust one of their game start times to be more palatable for east coast fans. Certainly, the inverse should also be true.
Overall, the goal is to get more fans watching games and allowing the youngest of fans to become lifelong baseball fans. The current schedule and start times serves as an impediment. Baseball needs to realize this and act accordingly.