One major issue facing Major League Baseball right now is many sports fans consider baseball to be slow and boring compared to other sports. This has caused fan engagement to suffer. In a 2018 Gallup poll, only 9 percent of Americans said baseball was their favorite sport to watch. That is the lowest total for baseball since Gallup began tracking sports popularity in 1937.
Fan disengagement has also caused young athletes to play what they consider to be more exciting sports, which means in the future baseball may not have the premium athletes that other major sports have. Why is baseball so boring to some people?
Baseball is boring to some people due to the overall length of the game and the long gaps between game action.
Baseball is more of a traditionalist’s sport that expects players not to celebrate in wild, crowd-engaging manners. Although this may seem “professional” it has hurt the sport’s marketability to younger generations.
These are complex issues that baseball has taken active steps to try and remedy. Let’s break these issues down and discuss what Major League Baseball is doing to counteract these issues.
Why is Baseball So Boring To Some Fans?
For fans who find baseball to be boring, it usually comes down to one of 5 things:
- Baseball games are too long
- Baseball has too many periods of no action
- Baseball season is too long
- Emphasis on home runs have removed other exciting parts of the game
- Baseball lacks in-game celebrations and player enthusiasm
Let’s discuss each of these, starting with the length of baseball games.
Baseball Games are Too Long
Average Length of MLB Game
In 2018 the average game lasted 3 hours and 4 minutes. For comparison, the average length of a Major League Baseball game in 2005 was 2 hours and 46 minutes. The length of the game is trending in the wrong direction. Many sports fans cite the overall length of games as being the main reason why baseball is boring to them.
Why Do Baseball Games Take So Long?
Baseball games are long for many reasons. The biggest factor is baseball is not a timed sport. It is completed when a set of innings (9) are fulfilled. In comparison, basketball and football games end when a certain amount of game time expires.
Also, baseball has no play clock governing action like in basketball (shot clock) and football (play clock). This means at-bats can be long and drawn out.
Bullpen substitutions slow down the pace of a baseball game as well. Mound visits by catchers and coaches also extend the length of a game.
Another factor is a culture amongst players and coaches that is accepting of a slower pace. Because baseball has been played like this, player and coaches are used to it. They build their in-game routine and habits around it.
Baseball is Not a Timed Sport
Baseball games will continue as long as it takes to fulfill the 9-inning requirement. Let’s compare this to football. In football, there is no guarantee how many offensive possessions a team will have. It may be 8 or it may be 10+.
In football, you play until the game clock expires. This creates a sense of urgency among teams. The quicker you get off the field on defense, the more opportunities your team has to score.
In baseball, the amount of time it takes you to get 3 outs while on defense does not matter. If it takes you 45 minutes or 20 minutes, as long as the other team does not score, there is no harm done. Even if you are behind on the scoreboard. You still have the same number of at-bats guaranteed.
Because baseball is not a timed sport, the sense of urgency in regards to time does not exist among players. This doesn’t mean they’re not focused. It means they’re focused on execution and execution alone. Time does not play a factor.
A team who is behind in basketball or football not only has to execute but do so in a timely manner so that they have more time to complete a comeback. Baseball players do not have to worry about how long it takes them to complete a comeback. They only must worry about the comeback itself. It doesn’t matter if the comeback takes 90 minutes or 45 minutes, there is no game clock to expire.
This means slow, methodical, focused at-bats. Multiple strategical pitching changes. Mound visits in high pressure spots. Batters stepping out of the batter’s box to refocus. Pitchers throwing over to first base to muck up an at bat.
Other sports would suffer from this pace of play problem too if they were not timed. Consider a basketball game without a game clock. A team has 10 possessions to erase an 8-point deficit regardless of how long it takes.
Those possessions would be slow, focused and methodical because the only thing that matters is THAT they score, not how quickly they score. This is baseball’s biggest pace of play issue.
Baseball Lacks a Play Clock
Other major sports will use a shot clock or play clock to keep the pace of play moving forward at an acceptable, fan-friendly pace. This is something baseball is currently considering.
Because no game clock exists to help pull pace forward, baseball is hoping a “pitch clock” that encourages pitchers to maintain a healthy pace will help move the game along faster.
This idea has been met with mixed reviews among players and coaches. Some players fear it will hurt their performance because they feel rushed.
Pitch clocks have been used in both college baseball and the minor leagues. In 2015, Major League Baseball instituted pitch clocks in both Double-A and Triple-A minor league baseball. Pitchers were given 20 seconds to deliver a pitch. If they did not meet the the 20 second pitch clock a ball was awarded to the batter as punishment. The clocks contributed to a 12-minute reduction in average game time in those leagues.
As of the 2018 season, Major League Baseball had decided to delay implementing a pitch clock at the Major League level in exchange for agreements by the players’ union that players would prioritize a quicker pace of play. If certain guidelines and goals are not met, Major League Baseball has reserved the right to implement a pitch clock in future seasons.
Other Reasons Why Baseball Is So Boring to Some Fans
Periods of No Action
Another reason that baseball is considered boring by many people are the long gaps in between game action. Some whole innings can go by without a batted ball being put into play.
Although strikeouts can be exciting to some, others enjoy seeing the ball batted and fielded. And many games over the course of a 162-game season just don’t deliver a lot of batted-ball game action.
Length of the Season
Why is baseball so boring to some fans? Could it be the length of the schedule? Does the long season make games feel irrelevant at times?
The length of the baseball season works against Major League Baseball’s attempt to engage more fans. The baseball regular season is 162 games long. Compare that to an NFL season which has 16 regular season games.
When a season is 162 games long, individual games carry less importance versus a 16-game season. Which means they matter less. Which means fans care less.
One huge asset the NFL has going for it is every game feels like it could be the difference between making or missing the playoffs because the margin of error is very thin during a 16 game season. Baseball does not have that feeling. And fan engagement suffers because of it.
Emphasis on Home Run
Why is baseball so boring to some fans? Could home runs made baseball somehow more boring? Seems impossible, right? Baseball, through analytics, have shifted emphasis to power and on-base percentage. Without doing a deep dive into strategy, the goal is essentially this: get people on base and have power hitters that can slug them in with doubles, triples, and home runs.
Many baseball organizations have shifted their focus to finding power hitters. Most power hitters in baseball strike out a lot. The reasoning is simple: a more violent, uncontrolled swing results in less overall contact. But when these violent swings do make contact with a baseball, the baseball travels a long way.
All of that was said to get to this point: the emphasis on power has resulted in less game action. Less balls are put into play. There are more swings and misses and strikeouts. The long periods in between batted balls is boring for fielders and fans alike.
Also, because home runs are being hit at a historic rate, the overall impact and excitement around individual home runs has greatly diminished. They simply are not as rare as they once were. Fans have grown accustomed to seeing them, and this has removed some of the excitement that surrounds them.
Lack of Celebrations
Why is baseball so boring to some fans? Could it be the lack of celebrations?
Baseball is rooted in tradition, and one tradition that baseball has always had is you don’t show up the opponent by over-the-top celebrations. Unfortunately, most fans love player celebrations. It feeds the fans energy. It gives both the players and the game a personality to root for or against. It’s engaging.
But because the unwritten rules of baseball discourage such celebrations and personality, this causes MLB to be interpreted as a league that doesn’t encourage fun, which reinforces it as a boring sport to some people.
In a 2016 Sports Illustrated article All-Star outfielder Bryce Harper, one of the faces of baseball, articulated this point. “Baseball’s tired,” Harper said. “It’s a tired sport, because you can’t express yourself. You can’t do what people in other sports do.”
Harper went on to say that he himself does not consider baseball to be boring, but that he feels like baseball lacks the flair that other sports have.
It remains to be seen whether or not this generation of baseball players will be the one to break this cycle and to start incorporating more celebration and excitement into the game. Tradionalist’s to the sport of baseball argue that baseball was very fun and engaging for many generations without having over-the-top celebrations and that it can be once again.
How to Keep Baseball From Being Boring
Major League Baseball has identified the pace of play to be a point of emphasis in a hope to re-engage sports fans. Let’s take a look at some of the things being done to improve pace of play.
Steps to Improve Pace of Play
Major League Baseball understands it is losing fan engagement. It has taken numerous steps to try and improve the overall length of games, and the pace of play during games. Not only do they want to shorten the time it takes to play a game, they want there to be shorter periods of time between game action. They believe this will help keep fans engaged.
There are several steps Major League Baseball has taken to try and improve pace of play. Here is a list of actions they have adopted:
- Limit Mound Visits – A team is now limited to only six mound visits per nine innings. Mound visits are energy and rhythm suckers. They sap the stadium of energy in big moments and big at-bats. This is why they were popular for catchers and managers to use. It is an opportunity to settle the pitcher down and reduce crowd noise in big moments. Baseball is trying to limit these mound visits to increase energy and reduce game length.
- Shorten Time Between Innings – Baseball reduced the amount of time in between innings. On television broadcasts they still have the same amount of commercial time, but they shortened the outros and intros done by television broadcasters. Your broadcast will head immediately to commercial after the final out. The broadcast will return just before the first pitch of the next half inning.
- Pitch Clock – As we discussed earlier, Major League Baseball has considered implementing a pitch clock to increase pace of play. Although this has not yet been implemented at the Major League level, it has been implemented and tested thoroughly at the minor league level.
- Intentional Walks – Baseball in the past required pitchers to throw four intentional balls to a catcher if the pitcher wished to intentionally walk a player to first base. Recently, baseball has eliminated this requirement and now a pitcher or manager can just signal to put a batter on with an intentional walk. This was in hopes to remove a boring part of the game (no one came to the ball park to see an intentional walk) while possibly speeding the game up. So far there is no conclusive data to show that this has increased pace of play.
- Batter’s Box Policy – Major League Baseball has instructed batters to keep one foot in the batter’s box in between pitches. Flagrant violators can receive fines. This is an attempt to keep batters from walking around in between pitches and slowing pace of play. This policy has not been received well by many professional hitters which think it favors the pitcher.
Baseball has been called America’s pastime. It was once the most popular sport in the United States. But in 2018, baseball finds itself in a situation that it didn’t face generations ago: fan disengagement.
The truth is baseball is a fun sport that many enjoy. But the reality also is that times change, and sports evolve. And in many ways, baseball has failed to change with the times. Baseball will need to evolve and find new, unique ways to engage fans in the present day and age.
Is Baseball Dying?
We know that interest in baseball is at an all-time low. We also know that baseball has publicly acknowledged that steps must be taken to re-ignite fan interest and engagement in the sport. So we are left with a serious question: Is baseball dying?
The chances of baseball ever dwindling to a point of complete irrelevancy is nearly impossible. Even if the sport is ranking behind the NBA and the NFL in fan support, it still has millions of die-hard fans that appreciate and support it.
But the truth is, baseball is slow to adapt to modern changes in fan engagement. Their social media outreach compared to other major sports is embarrassingly bad.
As of 2018, Major League Baseball did not allow fans to post any video highlights on social media accounts. Even worse, they only allow MLB teams to post two video highlights on team social media pages during a game.
In 2018, such policies are archaic. How can you engage fans if…. you aren’t engaging fans? Sports fans want to consume highlights in a much different way than they did even a decade ago.
Social media has provided us a platform where we can see small highlight clips in almost real-time. Gone are the days where you had to sit through an entire hour of Sportscenter to catch a 60-second highlight package of your team’s game.
But when it comes to baseball, there is a giant void. MLB seemingly chose to view social media as something that could harm its business. And now, they are living the consequential aftermath of such decisions.
Baseball would be wise to open up the flood gates and make content free and easy to view. Adapt to modern technology. Get baseball in front of as many eyes as possible.
Whenever business landscapes change in a major way, for example the birth and rise of social media, there are winners and losers. Baseball found itself on the losing end of this seismic shift in media consumption.
But in the end, baseball is still a sport deep-rooted in this nation’s history. If it was successful once, it can be successful again. The leadership in Major League Baseball will need to be creative and open-minded to reclaim what it has lost.