Thursday, April 22, 2004

Shortening the Baseball Season

Here's an e-mail I wrote to my friends Jule and Brad about shortening the Major League season from 162 to 140 games. I've done some thinking about baseball over the years, and this is one of the better ideas I've had. Depending on what you think of it, that might not be saying much.....

The season now stands at 162 games, at which it has held since 1961. The season stretches from the first week of April to the last week of September, or 6 months long, or 27 games per month.

What if you made that a 5 3/4 month season (ending the second to last week of September) with 24 games per month ... a 140 game schedule? 13.6% shorter than the current schedule. 70 road games, 70 home games.

I would propose to take out three weekday games per month on average, but five per month in April and September (school months) and only one per month in June and July. These games are the least attended games of the year anyway. [Edit - and it's really cold in the northern cities, anyway].

You say, what about the attendance? I say that making Baseball more scarce will hardly affect attendance. All of the games become more precious as the quantity is reduced. Your ratio of opening day and pennant race games to April clunkers is increased dramatically. Since baseball attendance is only about 70% of capacity anyway, increasing attendance to 75% of capacity will have a wash effect with the reduced number of games. This could be accomplished easily because those folks who buy eight game plans now will be forced into fewer games, and the casual fan who goes to 1 or 2 games per year will still be going to those games. Your only loss is the season ticket holders who buy seats to each game...but they also get substantial (10% or more) discounts on tickets. Raise ticket prices by 5% to make their discounts only 5% and you might just be at a wash, attendance and price-wise.

Also, if you reduce the number of games, you INCREASE the chances that each particular team will be involved in a pennant race. The delta between the best teams and the worst teams decreases with the absolute number of games (even if it stays the same percentage wise). If more teams are in the pennant chace, then their attendance will rise.

A reduction in the number of games by 22 games also does a great thing....it reduces the need for a 5th starter. Your top four starters could make 35 starts each in a 4 man rotation in a 140 game schedule. With the extra off days, this doesn't even mean they'll be getting less rest. It also spaces the off days more in April, where pitchers need the most time to recover. Bringing back the four man rotation, of course, reduces the need to spend gobs of money on starting pitching...thus have a reduction on payrolls.

You ask, what about TV money? Most of the TV money is made from the post season. ESPN is not going to pay less for Sunday night and Wednesday night games because they still we be able to televise Sunday night and Wednesday night games.

What about local TV money? My guess is that local stations pay for the rights to televise a good package of games, not necessarily a large package. The value of a 70 game package is pretty much the same as an 80 game package for a regional sports network/local broadcast affiliate. Plus, with fewer games, there might be greater demand for the games they show, meaning better ratings. More of the games will be on weekends, which means fewer conflicts with prime-time programming.

Because more games will be on weekends, a higher percentage of the games will be day games. Baseball is meant to be played in the sunshine, damnit. [Edit - no, I'm not some latent Cubs fan. I just like daytime baseball. It goes better with bratwurst.]

Stats? Sure, Barry Bonds' 73 home runs will be safe, and no one will touch Wilson's 191 RBI record. But the chances of another .400 hitter go up. (Fewer 100 rbi men means fewer big contracts, too.) Hitting 50 home runs will mean something again, especially facing 1-4 starters, not 5th starters 20% of the time. Pitching stats in a four-man rotation won't be appreciably different. 35 starts is 35 starts either way.

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