I don’t go to baseball games to see how fast they can be finished. No one does, really. I spend thousands of dollars going to 40 some professional games a year, and I do so because I enjoy it. I enjoy being outside. I enjoy the thinking aspect of the game. I enjoy the game itself. Yes, a game lasts three hours. It’s not a game that lends itself to instant gratification. It’s a game that takes time, requires thought, and generally lends itself to the strategically inclined. It’s a game of inches, adjustments, and patience. Baseball fans like all of this stuff. They also enjoy kicking back in their seat, with a cold beer in their hand, and watching the game. It’s what we pay for.
Apparently Commissioner Rob Manfred doesn’t think that’s the case, or more likely, takes us for granted. In his efforts to bring more marginal fans into the stadiums and watching the TV’s, Manfred is hellbent of making baseball more timely. He thinks baseball needs to improve it’s pace of play to be more interesting. He thinks that baseball can somehow emulate the pace of play in other sports, sports like the NBA that are basically built for constant action. What he thinks is basically incorrect.
Manfred’s latest brilliant idea, limiting the number of mound visits a catcher can make, is idiotic. He has floated equally silly ideas about how many pitching changes a team can make in an inning, and putting a base-runner at second base to start innings during extra-inning games. The goal? Less stoppages. More action. A faster game. He thinks this will bring more fans to the sport in 2018. He essentially is saying society is too ADHD for baseball.
The NFL would serve as a good model for why Manfred’s plans are doomed from the start. The NFL’s best efforts to appeal to the casual fan in recent years have left them with egg on their face. From their attempts to have it both ways on national anthem kneeling, to their attempts to “get tough” on off field behavior, to their feeble attempts at addressing head injuries, to their completely inept inability to define what a catch is, the NFL’s attempts at change have left them actually with lower ratings than ever before. Is this because their efforts to protect their players and combat domestic violence were wrong? Of course not. It’s because these attempts at doing the right thing, at changing a league’s identity, are not going to bring new people into the game, by and large. You do that through enhancing the experience for fans in attendance, and creating more compelling television for the fan watching at home. One could simply look at the NBA’s recent success with these things and see that.
People who don’t watch baseball now are not likely to start watching baseball because you speed up the game. People who find baseball boring aren’t going to come over because of rule changes. They’re going to come over because the game is compelling TV. You have a game that is going global, who has compelling stars like Jose Altuve, Clayton Kershaw, and Giancarlo Stanton, and an in-game experience for the fans at the game that is enjoyable and relaxing. Changing the identity of the game to chase people who don’t like baseball now is going to leave Rob Manfred every bit as unpopular with the fans as Roger Goodell is with NFL fans. It’s also not going to work- kind of like the NFL’s recent decisions haven’t. Market what we love, don’t chase people who don’t. That’s the formula for success, and Manfred should understand that or get lost.