It’s seemingly a more and more rare thing to have the short-term financial interests of MLB’s clubs and that of the general baseball fan align, but one change that does so and should be considered as part of the next collective bargaining agreement is a simple one that was also, in fact, the standard for over a hundred years in baseball: a day game every day.
From the fans’ perspective, it would offer unique opportunities for consuming the sport on a more regular basis. Fans that either work at night or have kids that they may not be willing to bring to a 7 pm start could attend a 1:00 game and still be home in time for dinner. With the workforce going more and more virtual, it’s great to have a game with teams you might not normally see (in the background, of course, if my boss is reading). For those of us still at offices, it’s also an opportunity to listen to a game on the radio as long as you were told you could listen at a reasonable volume.
The hurdles, of course, are mostly financial concerns. Notably, this was also the initial push back against having games at night. MLB believed that night games would not catch on, would affect their gate revenues, and quality of play.
In addition to the opportunity to provide more access to fans, MLB should strongly consider a national marketing push for the day game every day. There is significant precedent for sports leagues in the United States expanding their broadcast footprint on otherwise dead days and times that even a generation ago seemed unlikely to succeed. Monday night football was thought to be unworkable. The NBA has expanded its offerings on Christmas Day, often intentionally matching up the best teams in the league on a day when there is (typically) no NFL football on.
Baseball, meanwhile, has essentially the entire summer to itself out of the four major men’s sports leagues in North America, and only the quadrennial World Cup and Olympics to contend with in terms of major broadcast competition during the daytime.
To take advantage of that window, baseball could more regularly schedule teams that don’t receive as much national exposure. I hate to mention this in that it might encourage another round of blacked-out games, but MLB could negotiate another exclusive tv contract to broadcast the full slate of a game every day to offset concerns about revenue loss from the gate, or primetime tv packages (local stations would retain their right to broadcast in-area).
Baseball shouldn’t have to look too far for a proof of concept for this to work. The Cubs, after all, play the most day games of anyone due to a city ordinance prohibiting Friday night starts, and they hardly have an issue with attendance or marketability nationally.
In 2019, there were 840 daytime contests (all times local). The Cubs played the most, with 68 day games, and Atlanta playing the fewest with 40. The average team played 56 day games.
|Team||League||Division||Total games||Day games|
|Chicago White Sox||AL||Central||162||65|
|Toronto Blue Jays||AL||East||162||64|
|Tampa Bay Rays||AL||East||162||63|
|San Francisco Giants||NL||West||162||62|
|Kansas City Royals||AL||Central||162||61|
|New York Yankees||AL||East||160||60|
|San Diego Padres||NL||West||162||56|
|St. Louis Cardinals||NL||Central||160||55|
|Boston Red Sox||AL||East||160||52|
|New York Mets||NL||East||162||52|
|Los Angeles Angels||AL||West||160||42|
|Los Angeles Dodgers||NL||West||162||42|
With 187 days to round out the MLB schedule annually, a day game each day would require at least two teams each of those dates, meaning 374 team day games, an average of about 12 games per team.
Based on the 2019 season (the last season for which we have full “regular” season data), there were already 140 days of the season that contained day games. To have a day game each day would only require 47 additional “day game days.”
So the games are there. Of course, the logistical hurdles are immense, and the current pace of day games doesn’t account for the fact that all teams (save for the Sunday night teams) play day games on Sundays. The day games are currently concentrated on mostly “getaway” days, such as Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Would players trade fewer overall day games, spread more evenly throughout in exchange for having some additional day games after night games?
Schedule balancing wouldn’t be easy, and there would certainly be scenarios in which teams would have to play a day game after a late arrival the night before; however, fewer overall day games throughout the season spread more evenly between teams may be a worthy trade-off in terms of player health and rest.
The necessity for teams to travel to or from opposite coasts is an immediate challenge for West coast teams in particular, with a 1 pm start in the East meaning a likely unworkable 10 am start on the West. Under a day game every day, the MLB schedule would have a disproportionate number of those games played in Eastern and Central time zones; that’s not as incongruous with the current system as you’d think. In 2019, only two Western-division teams (Oakland and San Francisco) ranked in the top half of day games played by local time.
Perhaps this would entail more “wrap-around” series of four games that would begin on Friday and end on Mondays, to allow for more Monday day games. Then MLB would mostly be looking at Tuesdays to find one game that is workable in the schedule to make into a day game. That seems feasible.
A day game each day would provide MLB with another showcase for its product, on days and times when there’s little chance of counter-programming, especially for sports fans. The logistical challenges are real but not insurmountable. At a time when the league is trying so many on-field options to increase its fan base, reverting to an old approach to the game that could appease the die-hard fans waiting for games to start each day while providing unique opportunities for others who normally wouldn’t watch or attend at night is a common sense, low-risk approach to expanding the league’s footprint.
(Photo by Jared Vincent/flickr | Design by Michael Packard (@designsbypack on Twitter @ IG)