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Would Fewer Commercials Shorten the Intolerable Length of Baseball Games?

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I love baseball. But yet there is nothing worse to me than a low-scoring game that drags out to way over three hours because of pitching changes, pitchers who are slow to deliver, batters who constantly step out of the box, needless pickoff throws and mount conferences.

Major League Baseball is concerned about the length of its games. Game times are too long, television revenue is dropping and fans are complaining.

So the league has been experimenting with ideas to speed the game up — pitch clocks in the minors, for example — and it is doing away with the four pitch intentional walk. Now a manager will just make a signal from the dugout and the runner will take a base. But these will really not have that much of an impact.

Commissioner Rob Manfred recognizes this, and he also realizes the cause of the biggest delays: television commercials. So he has suggested that it might be time to look into shortening commercial breaks in hopes of speeding up the game.

“I fully agree with the idea of examining our commercial load in our broadcasts is something that we should be doing,” Manfred told Maury Brown of Forbes. “There are contractual limitations on when we can do this; we have existing commitments. But that certainly should be an issue we look at, as well.”

This is all still hypothetical. And while Manfred seems to have one owner on his side, Boston’s Tom Werner, this does not seem to be an idea that will be supported by the rest of the owners or by broadcasters.

Commercials, which can total up to six minutes per inning, mean money. The more the broadcasters make off the commercials, the more the broadcasters are able to pay the teams and the league for the broadcast rights. The more the broadcasters pay for the rights, the more money the teams make and the more each team can (one hopes) spend on expenses like player contracts.

There are other ways to make up for the lack of commercials, of course. There could be more ads read by announcers during an inning, as well as additional sponsorships. The Blue Jays TV broadcaster has experimented with ad placements on the field. Maybe instead of 30-second ads there are suddenly many more 15-second commercials.

And the scarcity of commercials could also drive up the prices that could be charged to would-be advertisers because less commercial time would mean that advertisers would have to pay more money to get one of the remaining slots. This could thus help make up some of the revenue that would be lost. It would also perhaps mean that viewers of games would no longer have to see the same commercial spots over and over again during a game.

Odds are that nothing will come of this — there’s probably just too much money at stake for baseball to get by with fewer commercials. But it’s more than likely that, while commercial breaks may remain the same, more broadcasters will look for more ways to squeeze advertising into the game.

And what about speeding up the game? Baseball being baseball will likely come up with some idea like that with the intentional walk which really does nothing to reduce the time of the game. Because in the end, speeding up the time it takes to play a game is much less important than the money that can be made from commercials.

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