Thursday, October 18, 2012

Why Aren't People Tuning in to the MLB Playoffs?

According to the Neilsen Sunday night televsion ratings, the NFL game dominated drawing a 6.9 rating in comparison to a 1.9 rating for the NLCS game on Fox.  This should come as no surprise as the NFL has consistenly clobbered MLB over the years. But there is a bigger issue at play in Major League Baseball, that gets amplified during the playoffs and World Series: the length of the games and the sheer amount of dead-time continue to rise and it makes the games more difficult to watch.

The average length of a regular season MLB game has been on the rise from an average length of 150 minutes in the 1970's to the current average of about 175. Thus far, the average length of a playoff game in 2012 has been 206 minutes. A closer look at the American League numbers show that there were three extra inning games lasting 12, 12 and 13 innings respectively.  Removing them from the calculation completely drops the average down to 199 minutes, so that is still an increase of 24 minutes compared to a regular season game.  This may not seem like a lot but considering the primetime games typically start after 8pm ET, viewers in the Eastern time zone will typically need to stay up past 11:30 to get a result. Not so easy, especially for the early risers.

There may be a bigger reason that viewers may be tuning out: the amount of dead-time during a game.  The first game of the ALCS between the Yankees and the Tigers lasted 294 minutes, 6 minutes shy of 5 hours. In 12 innings, 14 pitchers were sent out to the mound--that's 12 pitching changes with at least one or more coaching visit, a walk in from the bullpen and the requisite number of warmup pitches. An astonishing total of 425 pitches were thrown during the marathon, which brings us to the next source of dead-time: the deliberate approach taken by both pitchers and batters. I don't have stats to support it, but there seems to be agreement that at bats are extended during the postseason because they "matter more."  Batters are said to be grinding it out and are taking pitchers deeper into the count.  If this was the case, we would expect to see the number of pitches per inning to be much higher in the postseason compared to the regular season.  However, as the chart below shows, that is not the case:

Regular Season(MLB) 32.5
Postseason(NL) 30.1
Postseason(AL) 33.4

So it may be safe to blame the longer games on a combination of the following:
  • extended time between innings
  • more pitching changes
  • more delays added by pitchers stepping off the rubber and hitters being granted time out
  • more pickoff attempts
Some of these could certainly be addressed by MLB. Whatever the case, the viewers have spoken:  Some postseason games are painfully long and the lack of action only makes it harder to stay tuned in. 

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