SLRG research has shown a resurgence in fan interest in baseball. Now with the institution of the pitch clock, the media world is noticing as well!
Early April may very well be my personally favorite time on the sports calendar. We have the culmination of March Madness, the tradition unlike any other that is the Masters Tournament, the tense push to the playoffs in the NBA and NHL, Kentucky Derby prep races — and hope springing eternal as another MLB season gets underway.
The start of the baseball season is particularly interesting this year with the introduction of significant rules changes aimed at speeding up the pace of play and making games more exciting. At the center of these changes is the institution of a clock that now dictates the time frame between pitches. Vetted extensively in the minor leagues, the pitch clock has been shown to reduce game times to about two hours and thirty minutes; consistent with what we saw back in the 1980s and 1990s, and about 25 to 30 minutes quicker than what we’ve seen over recent seasons.
The adoption of the pitch clock has not been without some rancor. As with any significant change, there are detractors who complained this innovation would upend tradition and erode the natural rhythm of the game. I’m a lifelong baseball junkie, and I have to admit that before looking at the data, and watching the pitch clock in action, I had some reservations. Now, after seeing the clock during spring training and over the first week of the season, I’m a big fan of it. And as a sports researcher, I’m happy to report that so is the public.
We asked sports fans at the end of March whether they thought the new pitch clock was going to be good for the game, and a majority agreed. More significantly, the younger generation of fans, the cohort under age 45 that many surmised was losing interest in the game, were even more positive about the change than the more entrenched older fans.
But what has me most excited about the public’s embracing the pitch clock, is that for the first time in my recent memory, baseball finally seems to be getting some positive vibes from the sports media. It had been so exasperating to read the droning narrative of the past several years that baseball was too slow and not exciting enough to captivate today’s attention deficit fan. It was ironic so many had harped on the three-hour average game length, when several studies showed that the average football game, with all of its play stoppages, was actually running just as long, if not longer.
Now, if game times hold, the average baseball game will be quicker than football and on par with the hockey and basketball. That’s one less gripe that people can throw at “America’s pastime.”
I’ve seen a resurgence in fan engagement and participation, particularly among younger people, for quite some time. Who would have thought it would take the institution of a clock to get the sports press to notice.