MLB seems to think its broadcast audience is more important than fans at the ballpark
And, well, they're probably right
Major League Baseball under commissioner Rob Manfred has famously prioritized improving the game's pace of play, and recently. You probably intuited why this is going on, but just in case there was any confusion ...
All of this makes sense. When you're at the ballpark and enjoying the multitude of charms that is baseball in person, you're not acutely aware of mound conversations and commercial breaks and pitching changes and so forth. You're certainly not aware of whether a game runs, say, 2:54 or 3:10. These are the kinds of things that vex the fan who's watching on TV at home or streaming via mobile device on the go.
Sports media rights deals are expected to top gate receipts for the first time next year, according to researcher PriceWaterhouseCoopers, with regional sports network deals fueling most of the growth in the next four years.
PwC predicts that sports media rights deals will attract about $20.1 billion in 2018, up 5.6%, topping ticket sales for sporting events of $19.6 billion for the year.
In the specific case of MLB, revenues continue to rise -- it's now a $10 billion industry -- despite the fact that total attendance has fallen for three straight years and five out of the last six years. As well, in 2017 MLB's total attendance dipped below 73 million for the first time in 16 years. All of that is possible thanks to the incredibly lucrative local and national media contracts now in place. Also, each of MLB's 30 clubs netted a $50 million windfall from the sale of BAMTech to Disney. One upshot is that teams don't really need to put butts in the seats in order to be profitable.
The other upshot, which is more relevant to the current discussion, is that MLB is more concerned with tailoring the baseball experience to viewers rather than attendees. If you're a fan of the leisurely experience of baseball from the seats, this isn't a good thing. It is, perhaps unfortunately, a rational thing from MLB's standpoint. Maybe all these media deals wind up being some kind of asset bubble. Until something changes in terms of how MLB arrives at its revenues, the league will continue tweaking the game to appeal to those consume baseball away from the ballpark.
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