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Julia Robertson/AP

MLB and Fox Finally Agree to Start World Series Games Earlier

May 19, 2009 07:24 PM
by Denis Cummings
After years of complaints from fans who believe World Series games end too late, Major League Baseball and Fox have agreed to move up the start of games by more than a half hour.

World Series Games to Start Before 8 p.m.

Major League Baseball announced Monday that the scheduled first pitch for weekday games in the 2009 World Series will be more than 30 minutes earlier than in past years. The games, scheduled for 7:57 p.m. EDT, will be the first weekday World Series games to start before 8 p.m. since 1971.

“The fact is that over the last few years, games have been ending a bit later than we’d like,” said Fox Sports president Ed Goren in an MLB press release. “This new schedule … should help fans of all ages see weeknight games from start to finish.”

The five games in last year’s World Series started between 8:29 p.m. and 8:35 p.m. EDT, with no game ending before 11:30 p.m. The rain-delayed Game 3 began at 10:06 p.m. and ended at 1:47 a.m. The series had the lowest television ratings in World Series history, 17 percent lower than the previous low in 2006.

Saturday games “will start no later than weekday games and could start earlier,” declares MLB, while Sunday games will start after Fox’s NFL coverage is completed. Fox has also agreed to broadcast American League Championship Series games earlier; TBS, which broadcasts the National League Championship Series and division series, has not yet agreed to any time changes.

Fox had resisted starting games earlier because such a move will interfere with local affiliate programming and likely lead to lower Nielsen ratings. “I give Fox a lot of credit,” MLB commissioner Bud Selig told USA Today. “I’ve wanted this (for) a long time. And it’s a very significant change.”

Background: World Series start times

The World Series used to be played during the daytime; the first prime-time game was not played until 1971, when one of the seven games was played at night, reports The New York Times. Over the next several years, more prime-time games were added. Between 1977 and 1984, just two daytime weekend games were scheduled each series. The 1987 series had one daytime game, which would be the last.

Games have been scheduled for after 8 p.m. EST to fit into the network programming schedule and to maximize ratings across the country. Though the start times make it difficult for fans in the Eastern time zone to watch the games, they are ideal for the Central time zone and allow fans in the Mountain and Pacific time zones to arrive home from work before the first pitch.

Many writers have criticized MLB for starting games too late for kids in the East and Central time zones to see the endings. In a typical opinion piece, Philip Lerman of The Washington Post wrote that MLB and Fox “lost—at least on the East Coast—a generation of baseball fans.”

But Nielsen ratings justify Fox’s decision. The Sports Business Journal cited numbers from the 2006 postseason showing that ratings increase 13 percent after 11 p.m. The numbers also indicate that the 6- to 17-year-old demographic is just as likely as adults to be watching at midnight.

Still, Selig said after last year’s World Series that he would like World Series games to begin earlier. “I really would like to have one late afternoon game and hopefully we can work on that, and hopefully start (night games) a little earlier,” he told Reuters.

Reactions: A small step in the right direction

Writers, fans and players have welcomed the move, though many feel that it is long overdue and still not enough. “At least they’re moving in the right direction, I think,” Brewers closer Trevor Hoffman told the AP. “I think the weird part is seeing young kids in the stands at 1 in the morning watching ballgames. Or if you’re at home watching on television you kind of want to not lose that younger generation because they’ve got to go to bed.”

While Selig claims that earlier times are a “significant change,” some are wondering how much 32 to 38 minutes will really affect a fan’s ability to stay up and watch the end of a game.

“This is typical for Major League Baseball, which has become the champion of pandering,” writes Ed Price on AOL FanHouse. “People complain about late postseason finishes, so baseball does something which is little more than cosmetic.”

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