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 …
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!
- Part 2 will have some more specific in game tweaks and will run sometime next week [↩]
- and, for the most part, it works. [↩]
- or on the day when all players arrive, I’m flexible [↩]
- with help from the WFNY Blawg Pound [↩]
- other than a few important NBA games as teams jockey for playoff seeding [↩]
- one game is traditionally played ahead of the rest [↩]
- nj0, you are correct, why waste that weekend? [↩]
- 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 [↩]
- likely a 50/50 loan and grant that comes out of their revenue sharing moving forward [↩]
- this increases their advertising exposure [↩]