Stay up late
Fans pay for networks' strategy; Manny strikes a pose
Posted: Wednesday October 17, 2007 3:08PM; Updated: Wednesday October 17, 2007 4:39PM
CLEVELAND -- This isn't the Super Bowl. We all know that. Baseball's postseason is not a one-shot, get up a party, national holiday kind of thing. It's a month of drawn-out at-bats, slow walks to the mound, seemingly endless commercial breaks and countless network promos. It's at least one three-hour game -- and often it's a lot, lot longer than that -- for most nights for most of this month.
For baseball fans, October baseball is a nothing short of a grind. Late TV start times and interminable games equal a lot of sleep-deprived nights and missed endings. And we all know the reason for that: With millions of bleary eyes watching, this is when the networks make their money.
Here's an example of what fans have faced to get through this month:
Thursday night's Game 5 of the American League Championship Series is scheduled for an 8 p.m. prime time start on the East Coast. (First pitch, because of all the pregame activity, isn't scheduled until 8:21.) For people in Boston and New York and Miami and anywhere else on the East Coast, that means the game probably won't end until somewhere after 11:30, if they're lucky.
And if they're not ... well, the ALCS game between the Red Sox and Indians last Saturday started at 8:21 p.m. in Boston. It lasted more than five hours, with the first nine innings taking a postseason-record 4:23. Who can stay up for that?
It's easy to point out all the problems with this layout. Unfortunately, it's not nearly as easy to come up with a solution.
The games, by nature and design in postseason, are going to be longer. For most postseason games, networks add a half-minute of commercial time to the break between innings, from 2:25 to 2:55. That's how they pay the bills. The time between innings, usually, drops down to 2:25 in extra innings, and it generally stays at 2:25 for pitching changes. In all, the extra time added to breaks for the postseason adds about nine minutes or so to a typical game.
Of course, these aren't typical games. The postseason is defined by multiple pitching changes, often beginning in the middle innings. Add on a couple of extra innings on any given night and you're talking a good chunk of added time to the telecast.
So what to do? It seems reasonable to suggest that, with games often lasting so long, all that needs to be done is start them a little earlier. Why not a 7 p.m. first pitch instead of 8? The game still would be on in prime time. And, if people missed anything, it might be the start of the game instead of the end.
But that doesn't take into account the large TV markets on the West Coast, where a 7 p.m. East Coast start time comes at the beginning of rush hour in L.A., and a 3 1/2 hour game barely creeps into prime time. "You can't take care of both coasts," a network TV guy told me the other day.
Still, that's exactly what Major League Baseball is trying to do: get as many people, on both coasts, to look at their product for the longest possible time. It is, almost undeniably, a solid business strategy.
Even if fans are the ones losing sleep over it.