Baseball has hit a new low. The commissioner can trot out all the numbers he wants explaining how healthy the game is, but let me tell you, here at the coffee shop on Main Street USA, NOBODY cares about the World Series. In fact, if it were to be cancelled today without notice, I suspect only 4 or 5 customers would even mention it. Remember the public outrage when a labor dispute cancelled the Series in 1994? Those days are long gone.
And to make matters worse, the kids really don't give a dang about the World Series. My son Owen is eleven years old and he is a huge baseball fan. He plays in the summer & fall and his room is decorated with a giant Joey Votto fathead along with hundreds of baseball cards taped to his wall. This is exactly the kind of young fan that can lead the sport into the future. Problem is, he has never seen the end of a World Series game. Ever. Think about that. This eleven year old baseball fan has NEVER seen the end of a World Series game. It's hard to make a connection with a sport when the biggest moments happen long after your bedtime.
And I don't watch either. It's just too late to justify staying up. I know a handful of nerds who do bother to stay awake to watch and they show up at the coffee shop the next morning looking tired saying, "I sucked it up to stay awake and watch the game and now I am paying for it." Uh, yeah, that sounds like good entertainment value.
Let's glance quickly at the numbers. First the good news: The NLCS on Fox at 8 p.m. tied for second among all viewers 18-49 years old with a 1.3 rating. The bad news: It tied with an episode of the Family Guy airing at 11:30 p.m. I doubt the NFL or NBA would find these numbers acceptable.
Anyway, you get the point. Baseball is sucking wind and something has to change. Lucky for them I have the answer: it's easy to execute and can be done as soon as next season.
All World Series games should start at 6 p.m.
Yup. That is my solution. Starting next year all World Series games should start at 6 pm. It's a new tradition that never changes. Baseball loves tradition. Forget shortening the season or speeding up the games. Maybe in some future fantasy hippie utopia that would be possible, but not on this planet during my lifetime.
I got the idea while watching the World Cup this summer. Most of those games started around 5 pm on weeknights. Yet, I found myself watching games with Owen and a big group of his friends and they were all into it. They weren't even soccer fans. It was just cool because it was on. As a baseball fan it pains me to admit, but soccer is the future and baseball is the past. It's time to borrow a page from their book and put these games on during daylight hours.
"But why not just start at 7 pm?"
Nope, baseball has to go all-in on this. Didn't a wise man named Mr. Miagi once say, "Walk in middle of road and you get squashed by football" or something like that? A 7 pm start, while an improvement, wouldn't be a big enough change. By starting at 6 pm baseball is creating a unique time slot to showcase its biggest event of the year. It's not all about the game ending late, though that is a part of it, it's about making the World Series feel special. A 6 pm start would do that.
The only reason World Series games start at 8 pm now is because that is the way they used to do it. There used to only be 3 TV channels to choose from, too. (At least that's what my aged friend Ricki C. tells me.) And with local affiliates filling the time between the nightly news and prime time, that was only spot to put it. Of course the World Series did well. There was no competition. That isn't the case anymore, so baseball has to change with the times. And its not like MLB is locked into any one network any more.. Hell, even I couldn't find some of the playoff games this year. I think I missed the one was on Animal Planet. ESPN would be nice but surely another network would go crazy for the chance to own the World Series. But they have to have the games on at 6 pm. You could even use the series as a lead into a new show at the 10 pm slot. Not too shabby.
As for the West Coast, they will get over it. What are we talking about anyway? Worst case, some people leave work a little early three times a year to catch the final three hours of a baseball game. These games average four hours in length. Fans will be hitting the bars by the third inning. And the kids can come home from school and watch. If people care so little about your sport they won't even do that then you don't deserve to survive. In exchange for this minor inconvenience, baseball picks up an extra hundred million eyeballs to possibly watch the end of your event when the drama really matters, when fans - die-hard fans - are rewarded for their loyalty and new fans are forged.
There is no drama in sports like a tight baseball game played with a championship on the line. Baseball needs to stop chasing the fans and playing by the other sports' rules. They have tried that and it isn't working. Baseball needs to make a bold move to insert itself back into the public eye. Have a little faith in your product. You have seen the movie: "If you build it they will come." It's time to start every World Series game at 6 p.m.