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Baseball’s Biggest Problems

You often hear people say something along the lines of, “baseball is a dying sport! It’s too slow and boring! That’s why attendance is dropping and ratings are down!”

That person is entitled to their wrong opinion. The main problem comes when the commissioner of Major League Baseball, Rob Manfred, shares that opinion.

His focus on the time of games is really just trying to distract from the real issues: games are often blacked out in local markets, ticket prices keep rising, food prices at games are insanely high, and players are often discouraged for showing emotion and having fun.

Pace of play

In 2017, MLB saw the average length of a game set a record three hours, five minutes. In 2018, the number dropped by a whole five minutes to three hours flat, but that isn’t good enough for Manfred.

He is implementing more rules, like the three-batter minimum for pitchers, to continue to try and get the game time down. Besides for implementing a rule players and managers don’t want, he’s not fixing the real problem.

Commercial breaks add a lot of extra time in games. Players often slow down their warmups in between innings or they’re forced to wait for the commercials to finish.

Manfred did already shorten them a little, but it’s still a lot of added time in a game that isn’t actually part of the game. According to an article from the Washington post, commercial breaks were shortened by 20 seconds.

In addition, commercial breaks between innings and during pitching changes will be reduced to 2 minutes 5 seconds for most regular-season games, 2:25 for nationally televised regular season games and 2:55 for postseason games.

They’re still longer than the players need. Cutting them down more would actually make a difference in reducing the time of a game without adding rules people don’t want.

And let’s be honest about the time of a game – Fans who want to watch baseball won’t care if a game is five minutes longer and people who don’t care about baseball won’t suddenly care about baseball if a game is five minutes shorter. And to add to it, the length of an NFL game averaged three hours and four minutes in 2017 yet it continues to grow. He’s fighting a pointless battle here.

Blackouts

You live in Los Angeles and don’t have Spectrum? Oh well. You pay for MLB TV but you can’t watch the teams closest to you play? Again, oh well.

How does Manfred expect the game to grow when fans are often blocked from watching their closest teams play?

MLB needs to do whatever it takes to get rid of the in-market blackouts. He can’t expect it’s ratings to go up when people can’t even watch. While most teams have their games broadcasted to local markets through cable and satellite, it’s not enough because there is a large wave of people getting rid of their TV providers for cheaper options.

It’s a hassle for most people to find a stream online, especially one with good quality, or set up a workaround for blackout restrictions. MLB needs to make baseball more accessible to people.

“But you can always go to the ballpark to see a game!”


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Ticket Prices

Part of the reason baseball grew in popularity early on is because it was cheap. There were a lot of games and a lot of available seats. People could afford to take their whole family to the ballpark.

Now, it’s hard to afford a game for most people and it’s even harder to afford to bring a family.

According to Statista, the average ticket price to see a Dodger game in 2018 was $41. The average price of a ticket in MLB during 2018 was $32. This is before parking costs (average of $15,89, according to CBS News) and food prices which we will come back to.

The average cost for two people to go to a game in their car, while spending nothing else at the stadium, would be $79. For three people it would be $111 and for four people it would be $143.

Most people don’t have the money to do that often and most people don’t want to go to a game without getting food or a souvenir.

The game would be better off if ticket prices were lowered.

Food prices

Like I just mentioned, most people aren’t going to a game without getting something to eat, and food prices don’t make that very affordable. Hot dogs became the go-to baseball food because they are easy to eat and they’re cheap. Now, they’re just easy to eat. A Dodger Dog costs just below $6 and the average around baseball was just below $5.

Buying enough of them for a family, plus drinks (which also have crazy high prices), just isn’t an affordable option for most people.

The Atlanta Falcons (NFL) recently introduced family-friendly concessions where a hot dog is $2, a soda with unlimited refills was $2, fries were $3, and burgers and beer were $5. The results worked out well for them as they actually made 16 percent more than they did before their affordable options. It’s not a crazy scenario, people will spend money if they can afford to.

Now, some smaller market teams, like the A’s, Twins, and Orioles, are trying it for themselves. The Dodgers could benefit from doing the same. Even if they don’t lower ticket prices, just cutting the cost of food would make it easier for a fan to decide to go to the stadium.

Emotion

“Don’t look like you’re having fun playing a game or I’ll throw at you because some made up rule told me to!”

Sports are simply more fun when players show emotion. MLB needs to embrace this instead of letting players police the game in an outdated fashion.

You know what’s more fun for a casual fan than a home run where a player puts his head down and jogs the bases? A home run where a player flips his bat, throws his hands in the air, and actually looks like he’s enjoying the moment.

MLB has a lot of young stars right now and more specifically a lot of international stars who didn’t grow up playing “the cardinal way” “the right way.” No one wants to see their star hit in his next at-bat because he did something good in his previous at-bat and reacted to it in an exciting way.

If a pitcher doesn’t want to hurt his ego by “getting shown up,” he should throw a better pitch.

The league would benefit from embracing emotion instead of trying to push it away.

Final thoughts

Baseball is not a “dying” sport because of a game that’s five minutes longer than it should be. The biggest problem facing baseball is a fan’s access to it. The sport has the potential to grow, Manfred just needs to get out of the way and allow it.

Written by Blake Williams

I graduated with an Associate's Degree in Journalism from Los Angeles Pierce College and now I'm working towards my Bachelor's at Cal State University, Northridge. I'm currently the managing editor for the Roundup News and a writer for Dodgers Nation. Around the age of 12, I fell in love with baseball and in high school, I realized my best path to working in baseball was as a writer, so that's the path I followed. I also like to bring an analytics viewpoint to my work and I'm always willing to help someone understand them since so many people have done the same for me. Thanks for reading!

13 Comments

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  1. How are prices ever going to be reasonable when a pitcher gets paid a million dollars a start (Kershaw) and batters get paid thousands per plate appearance? I am all for the players to be paid for their talent, but today’s salaries are way too high in many cases.

  2. Having been a Dodger fan for the past 60 years, its too bad MLB blacks out games. Can’t make it to Dodger Stadium anymore and subscribe to MLB.TV and still can’t watch Dodger games. After spring training that’s it. Even if games weren’t blacked out, the Dodgers would still have 3 million plus fans in attendance every year.

  3. Great article.. Made many great points. I won’t get political but thinking about timing baseball is a solution looking for a problem.

  4. The blackouts are the most frustrating thing about baseball by far for me. I live in Utah and every time the Dodgers play either the Rockies or the Diamondbacks the games are blacked out. Why should I subscribe to MLBTV if I can’t even watch my team? It just drives me nuts.

  5. Amen! Manfred’s ideas are mostly bunk and will not help the game. Who wants baseball to be like all other sports with clock watching and ridiculous rule changes. Does Manfred even like baseball? I agree that more access to televised games and lower prices–nothing that changes the pace of the game–would help a lot. If you can’t see it it’s a lot harder to get into it.

  6. Bottom line for many here, especially in the So. Calif area:
    You live in Los Angeles and don’t have Spectrum? Oh well. You pay for MLB TV but you can’t watch the teams closest to you play? Again, oh well.

    How does Manfred expect the game to grow when fans are often blocked from watching their closest teams play?

    MLB needs to do whatever it takes to get rid of the in-market blackouts. He can’t expect it’s ratings to go up when people can’t even watch. While most teams have their games broadcasted to local markets through cable and satellite, it’s not enough because there is a large wave of people getting rid of their TV providers for cheaper options.
    My issue is although I get DTV MLB Extra Innings that includes MLB.TV they still after 5 years or so don’t carry the Dodgers and DTV is a NATION WIDE provider.
    Case closed. But ticket, food prices are absolutely LUDICROUS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    I used to live in Orange County, and was able to basically afford to go to some games. But now I live 850+ miles away so that is not an option anymore. But even if I still lived in Calif. I could not afford as much as 1 game to attend…sad.

  7. Manfred will kill the game, given the opportunity of enough “time”. Hey, maybe his “time” ideas should by applied to him and his tenure!

  8. first Manfred has to go just isnt a baseball guy—now everything this post said we absolutely true–I will add
    do not allow contracts longer than 5 yrs-Put the DH in ALL of Baseball-Pay minor leagers double what they are getting–pay them $100,000 a yr–they now get an avg of $45,000

  9. Remember guys, Manfred is only a tool of the owners. And today’s owners are focused on one thing only….the bottom line. Not a bad thing unless you allow the bottom line to screw up the game we love. Being from Northern CA, we make a pilgrimage to Dodger Stadium once a year and I don’t really care what it costs (its like playing Pepple Beach, a guilty pleasure). If I were able to make multiple games a year, I’m sure I’d scream from “Top of the Park” how damn expensive everything is, but I can’t, so I don’t.

    Like the Tech Bubble, then the Housing Bubble, will there be a Sports Bubble? Part of me hopes so. A “correction” would be a good thing for us fans, a bad thing for players and owners. But how long can prices, salaries, profits continue to go up and up?? And another thing, every other major sport has had a half/ass competitor come and go (or get absorbed), why not baseball??? Why is baseball the only sport that still guarantees 100% of salaries? And why on earth does baseball still enjoy an anti-trust exemption???

    And finally, why does every major sport employ a God/Awful lawyer for their commissioner?? Anyway…..GO BLUE!!

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