Faster MLB Games: Will Viewers Play Ball In 2024?

As the new Major League Baseball season gets underway, consider the average time it takes now to play a regular-season game -- just 2 hours and 39 minutes. That was the average last year -- down nearly 20% versus the 2022 season.

This the fastest duration since the 1983 regular season. And it's all because of a timing "pitch clock" instituted by the league last season to speed up action and generate excitement for what had become a very slow-moving sport.

The clock for the game now is 15 seconds with the bases empty and 20 seconds with a runner on base. The batter must step in the box and be ready to hit with at least eight seconds left on the clock. Violations by the pitcher are an automatic ball, and violations by the hitter are an automatic strike.

What were the results? There is good and not so good. The positive was total in-stadium year-over-year attendance was up 10% to 70.8 million. 



The negative? TV ratings were mixed at best -- at least on the national TV networks.

Last year, ESPN was down 5% at 1.42 million for its “Sunday Night Baseball” franchise. Overall coverage slipped 2% to 1.41 million when including games on other nights of the week.

TBS was up 2% in viewership at around 350,000. Fox Television Network was down 10% to 1.89 million viewers, while Fox Sports 1 averaged 278,000 viewers per game, a record low for the network.

We can always talk up other factors in viewership, of course. Big market, legendary team brands -- the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers, for example -- who don't make it into the playoffs and/or go too far through the World Series are major considerations.

We wonder what effect the regional sports cable network (RSN) disruption of local TV airings of baseball games -- with the lower promotion and market kick -- is having on the business.

More than other sports, MLB counts heavily on those local cable TV games -- some of which has moved back to airing on over the air TV stations. 

A weaker RSN business comes from overall cord-cutting by TV consumers of traditional pay TV network bundles and packages due to the ever-increasing monthly costs where RSNs themselves  can range from $20-$30 or month.

Only 10%-15% of pay TV subscribers regularly watch their local RSN, according to Cross Screen Media. But those subscribers are key legacy pay TV subscribers contributing hefty parts of the bundle.

Worse still, those pricey RSNs offer slim profit margins for cable, satellite, and telco operators, and is a reason why many are eschewing carrying them.

Going forward, Major League Baseball seems prepared to take over much, if not all, local TV/streaming coverage of local market teams, if necessary. It did so quickly last year when Diamond Sports' Bally Sports Networks dropped the San Diego Padres and Arizona Diamondbacks in midseason.

Will forlorn, lower-interest local sports viewers find a better quicker, more exciting moving baseball product this year more to their liking and return to whatever platform -- streaming, cable, over-the-air -- is airing that content?

Some baseball marketing types may need to throw around a few more pitches.

1 comment about "Faster MLB Games: Will Viewers Play Ball In 2024?".
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  1. Ben B from Retired, April 1, 2024 at 7:54 p.m.

    I like the pitch count makes the game go faster still kinda boring though.

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