Indians

Baseball is fine, but MLB could use some tweaks (Part 1)

Baseball MLB

Baseball is not broken. Baseball is as beautiful a sport as it has ever been. The art of hitting a baseball with an elongated, rounded bat has amazingly persevered through the generations as something that is worth attempting. The drama that builds during crucial games is incredible as every single pitch can have more meaning than the last one. And, the ability to watch the rest of the games while chatting with friends and family on beautiful summer days and nights has also not lost its luster. So, please do not mistake the thoughts presented here as implying that baseball itself is broken.

However, MLB could be better. There are ways that MLB could improve itself to attract more casual fans, get more kids interested in baseball, and become a bigger factor on the national consciousness. Some of these decisions may require fighting the baseball purists, but if the end result is that they do not tamper with the game itself, while improving the experience and popularity of a MLB game, then it is good for everyone.

So, here is how to fix MLB (Part 1)1

Create Events

We have become an event driven society. Whether it is the Super Bowl, Oscars, or finale night of your favorite television show. In fact, we are such a society of events that television shows now market their season premiere, fall finale, spring premier, and season finales as individual events to try to drive interest2 In this climate, MLB has an issue in that they have a 162 game season that ends with a best of 7 World Series. Oftentimes, fans do not feel compelled for any individual game because the season is long and there are so many games. But, if the Browns can create anticipation over changing the hue of orange used on the helmet, then MLB can certainly generate some hype over specific events throughout the season.

Event One: Pitchers and Catchers Report

I understand that most fans cannot fly out to Arizona or Florida, and the fans that can fly out usually wait until Spring Training games begin in March. However, the beauty of living in a digital world is that the fans do not have to be in the same city as the players to interact with them. MLB should encourage teams and players to create an interactive social media day on the day that pitchers and catchers report3. Have a chat line open for the team with rotating players and coaches throughout the day. Encourage players to be available on twitter. Have fun events locally for the players, coaches and any fans and a social media team that is constantly posting update vines, instagrams, and tweets on the activities throughout the day.

Event Two: Opening Day

I recently realized4 that Opening Day for the Indians will be in Houston at the exact same time as the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final. So, fans in Houston will have to choose between staying home to possibly watch Kentucky complete the first undefeated season since Bob Knight’s 1976 Hoosiers or going to the ballpark to watch their struggling Astros. This game is the only one that directly conflicts with that championship game, but many other games also conflict with it when you add in the travel time to and from the ballpark. Considering that the Final Four games are the only other major competition for event driven sports at the beginning of April5 there is no reason for MLB to put itself in that conflict.

If MLB would simply move the Opening Day to the previous Thursday6 and have every other team have their Opening Day on Friday, then they would be unopposed and allow the maximum number of fans that are interested fully invest themselves into the event and get an extra weekend into the schedule.7 Again, Opening Day should not just be a baseball game. There should be less player and coach involvement due to them preparing for the game, but I would suggest creating a festive environment in and outside of the ballpark. Start things off hours before the game. Have bounce houses, balloon animals, and carnival rides for the kids. Trivia games, music, and drinks for the adults. Spend a few thousand dollars on the event so that you can hook these potential fans into the experience8.

Event Three: Interleague Weeks

Okay, yes, we have an issue here. With an odd number of teams in each league, we need to have interleague go on throughout the season in order to make interleague a MLB wide event rather than a constant often forgotten part of the schedule. So, for now, understand that to make this work we need to add 2 teams.

That being said, having interleague games is a wonderful idea if done properly, but becomes rather boring when drawn out throughout the season. Instead, if you can center interleague weeks around specific holiday weekends, then you can build some anticipation for them. My suggestion is that the week of Memorial Day and the week of Labor Day become our interleague weeks.

Again, the idea is that you need to have some fun to truly make it an event. My suggestion would be to build fake rivalries WWE-style. For instance, post a fake press conference where the Indians bullpen is treated to some Skyline Chili. But, upon seeing their meal, the players flip over the table in disgust and pull out some delicious sandwiches from Melt. Play it up, have fun, and the fans will respond.

Event Four: Mid-Summer Classic

Actually, I think they have been doing a good job with the Allstar game itself, so I would merely suggest some tweaks. For example, why do the batters get to have all the fun with the home run derby? I would add a pitchers skill competition that has a series of speed and accuracy challenges that pitchers must complete in a limited amount of time. There could also be an obstacle course for the faster players that involves bunting, running, et cetera.

Event Five: Game 162

This event is actually being discussed. Having all 162nd games start on the same day and time in order to build as much drama as possible for any potential playoff jockeying. Great idea and I hope that I would have thought to add it here even if MLB wasn’t already thinking about it.

Event Six: World Series Day Games

I understand that they would get less ratings for Saturday and Sunday afternoon games. And, that they would be competing against college and NFL football in those time slots. However, they are competing against football anyway, so you might as well allow the chance for the younger viewer to watch some of the championship games without DVR.

Move Tampa, Add Teams in Las Vegas and Mexico City

No, I am not suggesting to move the Rays away from Tampa. But, that team needs to understand that if they want to make the most out of their market that they need to put the ballpark in a more accessible location. Well, I am sure that they do understand it, but instead of waiting on public financing to help on that push, I would suggest for MLB to help make that happen9.

I understand there are a bunch of logistical nightmares in having a team located in Mexico City. In fact, it might be more feasible to have 2 teams there. However, there is enough population and finances for a team to exist there and it is far past due. MLB has such a strong Latino base of players and fans that it would instantly become a popular brand and likely a destination franchise for many players. If MLB lets the NFL beat them to the Mexican market, then they have failed.

As for Vegas, well, I understand that MLB seems the least likely to break the sports barrier in Las Vegas because of their history with the Black Sox, Pete Rose, and others. Sports gambling and MLB are a toxic combination. However, that is exactly why they should do it. Rob Manfred has the chance to demonstrate that he is all about moving baseball forward for the next generations of fans and there are few ways that would show it more than putting a MLB franchise in Las Vegas. It would quickly become the epicenter for many of the events throughout the season and they would shock the NBA if they beat them to that market.

Keep Improving the MLB.tv Experience

MLB.tv has been the best professional sports streaming application for many years now. In fact, MLB is considering spinning it off into its own company for what would amount to billions of dollars. However, there are still ways to improve the experience and MLB needs to keep working on it to do so.

Fix Local Blackouts

It is absolutely ridiculous that MLB.tv is an application where I can watch nearly all of the Indians games throughout the season live, but a fan in Cleveland cannot. I understand that the cable networks associated with each team want people watching their broadcast, but I do not understand why that broadcast has to be on a television. If they would be willing to break the television model, then they would find that many more people would be able to watch their broadcast and on many more devices10 and they should make more money in the long run. MLB needs to put pressure on these networks to go there instead of being afraid that the local cable network money will dry up if they push them. If they can get one market to prove it out, then the others will follow.

Add Better Highlight Packages

The NFL is amazing in creating highlight packages on teams and players in easily digestible formats after the games air. MLB is far behind and it hurts in the age when many fans don’t want to watch the full game, but are willing to watch an abbreviated set of highlight clips. Also, MLB.tv has a feature that will alert you to when specific batters are coming up in a game, but setting that feature up is cumbersome. They either need to make it easier to setup, or, even better, link it to a person’s fantasy baseball squad so that they get alerts when their players are coming up to bat. It is a way of having a live streaming highlight package. Finally, MLB could also steal the NFL Red Zone Channel idea by creating a streaming channel that switches between games with runners on base, tight games in the 9th inning, et cetera.

Part 2 Teaser

Pace of play, strike zones, and instant replay (among the big ticket items). Oh boy!

  1. Part 2 will have some more specific in game tweaks and will run sometime next week []
  2. and, for the most part, it works. []
  3. or on the day when all players arrive, I’m flexible []
  4. with help from the WFNY Blawg Pound []
  5. other than a few important NBA games as teams jockey for playoff seeding []
  6. one game is traditionally played ahead of the rest []
  7. nj0, you are correct, why waste that weekend? []
  8. of course, have the box office open and pushing for 10 or 20 game packages and how much you save per game by buying today []
  9. likely a 50/50 loan and grant that comes out of their revenue sharing moving forward []
  10. this increases their advertising exposure []

  • Steve

    I guess I’m not so sure that they want to have kids tune in, especially at the expense of the adults who actually make all the monetary decisions in the house. MLB’s issue getting to the younger market isn’t exactly new anymore, but they still see an uptick in fans as they get older. I don’t think MLB is permanently losing that many fans when they are kids. They come back as they age, and have the money to buy all those nice things that advertise at baseball games.

  • mgbode

    Yessir. How about we go one further. The Houston Astros cable network is not even available in Austin, TX. Yet, Austin is considered a secondary market, so the game is blacked out. I cannot buy the channel, I cannot go out to a restaurant, I cannot go to a friend’s house. There is no way for me to watch the Indians play the Astros unless I drive 3.5 hours to Houston.

    In a related note: the Indians open in Houston on a Monday.

  • mgbode

    I would as long as you could still actually see the team name on the jersey. Soccer jerseys are the worst that way. Of course, what we would more likely end up with is a game with commercials and that time but just with the gaudy ad on the jersey too.

  • scripty

    You’re not comparing it to a normal weekend, to the Monday or Tuesday you’d be replacing.

  • Steve

    Hmm, I guess I’m not sure how the fewer options things plays out. I would think that would actually make it more likely a player slips through the cracks for economic reasons – he or she doesn’t get a chance to shine at another sport he or she might be better at.

  • scripty

    Foreign nations have baseball academies and way more support at the local level, than say a kid in east cleveland.

  • Steve

    Well, my original response was kind of a joke, but to keep going – I’m not sure a team draws that many more fans to a day night double header than to just one game. Like I said, fans will pick which one of games on Saturday they want to go to. Now, if a team was going to sell out, and there’s that extra demand that could fill a second stadium on that day, sure, but in that scenario, the Monday or Tuesday game is almost certainly a popular draw too.

  • scripty

    I worked for a consulting firm that researched this about 8-10 years ago, it’d be more profitbale to do the weekends. The end point though is the impact on rosters, and union agreement. I doubt they’d ever get on board

  • yeah, i know. i just wish they’d stop blathering about it and actually make it happen.

  • Steve

    Once that kid hits 14, maybe 12. That’s a lot of development time missed out on. And I’d guess the vast majority of talent good enough to get into a foreign academy is being noticed by the right people once urban kids hit high school. I think the problem is that east cleveland kid will have given up the game before then, while the Dominican kid will stick at it. I’m not sure how MLB drums up interest in the game at the youth level though.

  • Steve

    Congratulations on the consulting job.

  • scripty

    The kid in Cleveland never owned a glove and his parents took him to tee ball or little league.

  • Natedawg86

    Everything is bigger in TX

  • mgbode

    it is not quite a direct relationship with runs scored as runs have been going down, but game lengths have been going up the past several seasons.

  • scripty

    In that sample size, yes you’d be right.

  • Mr. Lahey

    Scorsese has a habit of doing that. It were the length of The Color of Money, it would have been fine.

  • Mr. Lahey

    Many things have already been streamlined that frees a lot of time and people still complain they don’t have enough of it. Baseball is one of those things that doesn’t quite need it. Cricket, yes.

  • scripty

    It’s complaining vs. speaking with your pocketbook. Neither are good if you own a business and everybody complains about it, even if you have 25% of your customer base who completely love your product.

  • scripty

    yeah, good point. It’d still need to be a team/city jersey.

  • 1. Totally on board with teams in Vegas and Mexico City–two markets that would be fantastic, in my opinion. Being here in Tampa, I’m not so sure moving the team anywhere is a) really going to help (the problem is more “people aren’t Rays fans because they aren’t from here” than where the stadium is) and b) the city of Tampa is running out of viable space that would make a new stadium any more convenient than the Trop is now (for anyone interested, this is probably the best summary of that situation http://www.tampabay.com/news/localgovernment/tampa-officials-search-for-possible-new-rays-stadium-sites/2209260)

    2. Opening day should be a national holiday, on a Friday (so the opening series go through the weekend), and all teams should be in action. Turn it into more of a full event as mentioned here, and it could be a great day for all fans. Oh, and only play opening day/weekend games in domes or places where it wouldn’t be single digits and buried under snow.

    3. If we insist on having interleague play, then definitely lock it in to specific weeks. I’m all for getting rid of it, but that’s unlikely. And an MLB version of Red Zone Channel is both brilliant and obvious once you consider it.

    4. Yes to WS day games (one in each city seems reasonable). And syncing up the final regular season game is great. But 162 games is too damn many. I’m a proponent of a 100-game regular season, but I’d settle for 154. And more day-night double headers on Saturdays. Finally, get rid of the play-in game and make that a best of three, legitimate series.

    5. MLB.tv is one of the best things to happen to anyone who enjoys the game. Worth every penny. I like the suggested improvements, but would have no complaints if they changed nothing at all.

  • mgbode

    Thank you for the thoughts on Tampa, I was hoping you would add them in here. And, glad to know that I found the correct article to reference 🙂 I really would like the Rays to work out there long-term.

    And, looks like we are in agreement on the rest of them too. Good points made throughout as additions. Again, I don’t mind the long season, and it’s likely not changing either. But, I do understand why some would like it shortened.

    I am a bit surprised at the enthusiasm from many about day-night weekend double-headers. I love them, but figured most wouldn’t (too much baseball in a single day for most).

  • Hopwin

    I love baseball as is. That said, I do not see any of those suggestions doing anything to capture and hold the casual fan’s interest.

  • Well that’s what I get for not following the provided links first! Apologies, it’s been a long week! I did almost nerd out and link a detailed map of where these spots are in relation to the Trop and downtown Tampa, but then realized that the number of folks who’d really care much around this place is likely small. I too want to see the team work in this area, because I like having a pro team nearby when I’m in the mood for checking out a game in person (especially during Tribe visits), but it’s a battle for sure.

    As for day-night doubles, I can see folks trying to go with kids not necessarily seeing the charm. But going with the guys (and gals) and making a full day of it was always a favorite for me.

  • mgbode

    I guess it depends on how casual the fan. The RISP-channel would be one that I would hope the casual fan would appreciate. Or, linking their MLB.tv experience to their fantasy team.

    But, you never know for sure until they are tried. So, they might not.

  • mgbode

    No worries. I was legitimately happy to see you used the same link I did.

  • Steve

    The kid in the Dominican didn’t own a glove either, and used whatever he found as a ball and a bat. If the kid in Cleveland showed that kind of tenacity in finding a way to play the game and had real talent, someone would have discovered him and put him into a proper developmental system long before age 12.

  • scripty

    He’s playing basketball.