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Shortening inning breaks will likely hurt MLB

The new rule is great for fans, but bad for the business of Major League Baseball.

Seattle Mariners v Boston Red Sox Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

In March, Major League Baseball and the players’ association announced a long list of new rules and revisions that would become effective ahead of the 2019 and 2020 seasons. Among those rules were massive roster provisions, a minimum amount of batters faced for pitchers, a large prize pool for Home Run Derby participants, and a single trade deadline at the end of July.

But perhaps one of the most interesting ones was the first to be listed on the joint announcement from MLB and the MLBPA, which read, “subject to discussions with broadcast partners, inning breaks will be reduced from 2:05 to 2:00 in local games, and from 2:25 to 2:00 in national games. (The Office of the Commissioner retains the right to reduce the inning breaks to 1:55 in local and national games for the 2020 season.)”

There you have it. Effective starting 2019, the league will be shortening inning breaks to just two minutes. It’s just a five-second change in local games, but the national games take a larger hit, losing 25 seconds of between-inning downtime.

As our own Stephen Tolbert writes, “MLB is putting its money where its mouth is on improving the pace of its games. Long thought to be a measure baseball would never consider, shorter commercials breaks are coming to our favorite pastime. Obviously decreasing the amount of time they can show advertising during the games, MLB is taking a financial hit to get more actual baseball on TV screens and it’s not a small hit. Commercial times will be cut by 33%, going from 3 minute breaks to 2 minute breaks and there’s even an option to shorten them even more. Conventional wisdom says the split screen ad model is coming to baseball at some point, but no one should be complaining about less commercials and more baseball. And no one can say MLB isn’t serious about their pace intuitive.”

When you consider all of the rule changes MLB rolls out, and even just the sponsorships and promotions they announce, you have to remember that it’s all a business, and it all comes down to money. Ticket sales, advertisements, promotions and giveaways, merchandise, food sales, and TV and radio broadcasts, among others, provide the league with money.

So, despite the pace-of-play initiative, that is why it comes as a bit of a surprise that the league is cutting off up to 25 seconds of expensive commercial break time for the fans at home, and concourse times for the fans at the game.

Commercial breaks

Although Major League Baseball doesn’t see every penny that comes in for a national broadcast from, say, ESPN, they still get a large chunk of it; after all, it is their game that is being broadcast throughout the country, and even outside of the United States. An average 30-second commercial on local non-sports stations can be as cheap as a couple hundred dollars, but when you go national and add sports into the mix, that price skyrockets. (A 30-second ad in the World Series costs $420,000.) Oddly enough, the price for non-postseason commercials in baseball haven’t been released in the past few years, so we cannot use an exact figure when considering the drastic effect this would have on the league.

In an average nine-inning baseball game, there are 17 between-inning commercial breaks. That means eight-and-a-half minutes will be shaved off of game lengths. That is a lot in commercial break time — likely somewhere between 20 and 30 separate commercial breaks. Each segment is in the tens of thousands of dollars range, even if it does not surpass the hundred thousand dollar mark.

Perhaps MLB is such a big industry that a fair-sized chunk like that does not come with much of a hit if they lose it, but losing that amount for a total of 2,430 games obviously comes out to a lot of lost money. And that’s not including playoff games, when ad prices come with a large increase, and all games are nationally televised.

Concession sales

Now, picture you are at the baseball game. Not sitting on your couch saying, “Wow, I love these shortened commercial breaks,” but rather exclaiming, “I don’t have enough time to go get popcorn [or whatever you like to buy when there’s a break in the action].” Those 25 seconds really do have a difference. People will try as hard as they can to not miss any of the action. Shaving off 25 seconds between innings is more likely to keep fans in their seats between innings, instead of paying a visit to the concession stands, home of excessive prices and a great business plan by the team and the league.

If you have ever purchased something at a ballpark, you return to your seat in shock, saying, “Can you believe it’s eight bucks for a popcorn and five bucks for water?” But you bought it anyways, because you waited in the long line and you are hungry. That’s understandable. What isn’t understandable is the league’s decision to shorten these breaks. It was impossible to get food in less than the previous time of two minutes and 30 seconds. Now, knowing that you only have two minutes will keep you in your seat and away from the overpriced concessions and souvenirs.

According to the economic experts at Forbes, in 2014, concession prices likely made up seven percent of the league’s revenue. That is a lot when considering the league makes money off of merchandise, souvenirs, tickets, ballpark names, annual events, the All Star Game and Home Run Derby — you name it!

In 2017, the league’s earnings revenues exceeded $10 billion for the first time in history. Quick math brings the concession prices to roughly $700 million across the league. Wow! Surely the league will still make money off of food. But shortening breaks certainly does not raise the league’s earnings — that is for sure.

Plus, fans have never really had a problem with the breaks. They tend to last pretty quickly for fans at the stadium with the on-field entertainment and a bunch of folks nearby to talk to; but even at home, the commercial breaks certainly aren’t a big complaint.

If it ain’t broke, why fix it?