Inside Baseball: Televised Games Go To Great Lengths

For many, baseball’s leisurely pace is part of its allure.

It is like a chess game, they say, as managers and coaches strategize. They change pitchers, position their infielders and outfielders either short or deep, assign pinch hitters and pinch runners, and direct their players around the bases, waving them in or ordering them to halt.

With its long season stretching from spring to fall, baseball is synonymous with summer. Its slow pace parallels the way many people experience their summers as a time of unhurried relaxation.

But for many other people, chess matches are dull and long, and they wouldn’t watch them on TV if they were the last TV attractions left on Earth. In the minds of many, the same goes for baseball.



While baseball partisans and non-enthusiasts can have high-spirited debates about the entertainment value of watching a relief pitcher jog across the outfield from the bullpen to the mound, almost everyone can agree that baseball games today are too long.

This is especially true for the televised fall playoff games capped by the World Series. They have become notorious for their lengths and the late hour of their completion -- often long after midnight.

The average length of last fall’s World Series games on Fox (Braves vs. Astros) was slightly north of 3 hours and 40 minutes. Game 1 took 4 hours and 6 minutes. The 2020 series (Dodgers vs. Rays) averaged 3 hours, 37 minutes per game.

In addition, last year’s regular season games (encompassing the entirety of Major League Baseball) set a record for average length -- 3 hours, 10 minutes and 7 seconds, according to MLB.

Games averaged 3:07:46 in 2020 (when the season was shorter due to the pandemic) and 3:05:06 in 2019.

As almost anyone who watches baseball even casually well knows, the games are getting longer because of all the strategizing noted above that takes place during typical regular-season games and even more so in the post-season.

When pitchers duel with batters, they pitch a lot of pitches and at-bats are long. In the latter half of post-season games (and some regular-season games too), relief pitchers come and go frequently.

Some still refer to baseball as America’s Pastime, but the characterization is more nostalgic than realistic today.

With another season set to start on April 7 (following a labor dispute that threatened to derail the season), it is reasonable to wonder if the gradual erosion of TV audiences for baseball will continue apace.

The World Series serves as an illustration. The 2020 series was the lowest-rated series on record -- an average of 9.785 million per game. Last fall’s series ticked upwards -- to 11.744 million per game.

Like almost every other “big event” on TV (with the exception of the Super Bowl), the biggest audiences for the World Series were decades ago.

The record-holder is 1978’s six-game series between the Yankees and the Dodgers (the Yankees won) -- 44.279 million.

According to one online source, the average game during the 1978 regular season was 2 hours, 48 minutes -- 22 minutes shorter than the average for the 2021 season.

Put in those terms, it doesn’t seem that significant a difference since watching a ballgame for 22 more minutes is not that onerous.

Thus, when people talk about the growing length of baseball games, some are referring to regular-season games, but many are thinking about the post-season, when games go past midnight and sleep-deprived fans then struggle through their workdays on the day after.

For some of these viewers, the need for sleep conquers their interest in the games and they drift away from baseball and its marathon playoff games.

In addition, many observers have opined that the late games deprive Major League Baseball of an opportunity to grow new generations of fans -- namely kids who cannot stay up long enough to become World Series devotees.

With only limited expertise about baseball, the TV Blog has no suggestions on how Major League Baseball might go about making changes in its rules that would produce shorter games.

MLB’s partners in the TV business might not want that, since more game time means more commercials and more revenue.

But at what cost, when the late games contribute to baseball’s declining viewership and popularity?

1 comment about "Inside Baseball: Televised Games Go To Great Lengths".
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  1. David Scardino from TV & Film Content Development, March 16, 2022 at 3:11 p.m.

    Adam, great piece. There's one thing that would speed games up dramatically: limit the amount of times batters can step out of the box and adjust their equipment, particularly batting gloves. This now happens on virtually every pitch and triggers pitchers to then stagger their routines to try and throw the hitters off balance. Of course, since this remedy makes too much sense, I fear the Lords of Baseball, i.e., the owners, will never agree to it.

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