Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Did Major League Baseball Stumble into a Money Pit?

Back in April I wrote an article at Twins Daily about how the Stay at Home orders all but forced creativity upon baseball. The Twins Trevor May architected an MLB The Show Players League and by the end we had matchups on ESPN. With classic games being televised left and right, it was the initiative today that caught my eye.

Here’s the thing, classic games are awesome, but it’s a slog for many to get through countless hours of a known outcome. Speaking specifically about myself here, it’s exactly the reason I’m not fond of re-watching movies, no matter how good they are. Committing a substantial amount of time only to know the end result isn’t an opportunity I jump at.

On Opening Day, or what was supposed to be such, I tuned into Periscope to watch the Twins and Tigers game 163. It was a blast being there for that game, and it was probably the first time I’ve re-watched it since. The desire for action was significant given the removal of baseball on the day it was supposed to start. Fast forward to where we are today, and I haven’t watched a single re-run since. I stayed up for KBO Opening Day action, and I got all in on the Players League. Outside of that, it’s been pretty desolate on the sports front.
Then there was a tweet from Ken Rosenthal that reminded me was streaming non-stop coverage of some of baseball’s greatest half innings. One event for each of the 30 teams, hours of content, but broken up into just minutes of the best action. If this concept sounds familiar it’s because that’s exactly what the NFL has done in monetizing the Red Zone Channel. By cutting to action only in the biggest situations, fans are constantly kept abreast of the most exciting parts of a game.

Rob Manfred has stumbled over his own shoelaces constantly when it comes to thinking of ways to draw in new fans. Thinking that pace of play is a substantial deterrent, or that pitchers facing a minimum number of batters, or even that a timer to speed up aspects are the answer, he continues to miss the mark. The product right now may be the best it’s ever been, but the accessibility of that product remains a massive hurdle.

Games are blacked out even on the league owned streaming service. Players are not widely accessible across all markets, and promotion of the game is often done better by anyone not directly affiliated with the sport (who then immediately face copyright claims). This little endeavor on a random Wednesday afternoon could have unlocked something big though.

Imagine an avenue to watch any game going on with runners in scoring position, the bottom of the ninth, or a late inning comeback. You’d consistently see new and emerging stars on the greatest stage, and you’d do it while introducing those players to fans that otherwise may not have watched that team. It would be a way to consume baseball in conjunction with your own team, and something fans would see as a significantly less daunting commitment. As a Twins fan I’m not watching an entire game between the Marlins and Pirates, but I’d love to see Brian Anderson with a late game opportunity to walk it off.

There’s hurdles and red tape to work through with any new idea, but pushing those boundaries is something that baseball has failed to do time and time again. It’s when those types of initiatives are embraced that Rob Manfred will have begun to make the impact he’s long been looking for, and we’ll all be appreciative fans because of it.