Salt Lake Bees & MILB – Instituting Pace of Play

Salt Lake Bees / Smith's Ballpark

The following was submitted by Joe Coles:

When was the last time you went to a baseball game? Minor league baseball attendance has been on a downward trend the past ten years. As sports like soccer are growing in popularity in Utah, especially with young people, the old father-son ballpark outing is becoming a thing of the past.

Average attendance per game at Smith’s Ballpark in 2014 was 6,722, the lowest average attendance since the 2011 season. In 2005, the Sacramento River Cats averaged 10,497 fans per game at Raley Field, leading the Pacific Coast League in attendance. In 2014, they lead the PCL in attendance again, but only averaged 8,561 fans per game.

In an effort to get younger fans out to the ballpark, the Salt Lake Bees created the Bees student pass. I have had season tickets to the Salt Lake Bees for three years now, through the Bees’ student pass program. The student pass allows any person with a valid student ID (elementary school through college) to buy lawn season tickets to all 72 home Bees games for only $50 per pass. That’s about $0.70 a ticket per game. Two years ago in the summer, the Bees announced that anyone with a high school ID could get free tickets to that night’s game. I had tickets, but some more of my friends wanted to go, so we headed to the ballpark five minutes before the first pitch. The employees said that we were the first people to get tickets from them. I go to 35-40 Bees games a year, and I rarely see any high school kids that aren’t dragged to the ballpark by their parents.

In today’s now, now, now society, games that take three hours to finish and have a lot of down time, with the exception of football, are deemed boring. It’s true, baseball has a lot of dead space, and I think that is the reason why it is becoming less and less popular with generation Y and Z. In 2013, The Wall Street Journal analyzed three baseball games, with an average duration of three hours each. Using a stopwatch, they started the stopwatch on “action”- balls in play, stolen bases, pitches, runner advancement, and pickoff throws. Their findings? An average of 18 minutes of action during a three hour baseball game. That’s 2 hours, 38 minutes of dead times in the game.

MLB and minor league baseball are taking action to get rid of the dead time in baseball, hoping it will draw fans back to the ballpark. This year, they implemented new pace of play regulations to help speed the game up. Inning breaks will be two minutes, 25 seconds in duration, and pitchers must begin their windup within 20 seconds of receiving the ball, or the batter will be awarded a ball on the count. The batter also has to be in the box the entire at bat. How have these changes cut down on dead time? In 2014, opening day against Sacramento, a 8-3 Bees win, the time of the game was 2 hours, 56 minutes. In 2015’s first home game of the season, a 5-3 River Cats win, the time of the game was 2 hours, 57 minutes.

To capture the younger generation, baseball has to speed things up. My suggestion to do this is to make games seven innings long. Rushing the game anymore than it is being rushed right now could injure pitchers, but shaving two innings off of the game would make each inning matter more, and games would finish before milk is delivered to your house. In a nine inning, three hour game (if each inning was the exact same duration), each inning is 20 minutes each. In a seven inning game, the average time of the game would be 2 hours, 20 minutes. NBA games usually last around 2 hours, 20 minutes. Soccer games last 2 hours.

2 hours, 20 minutes. It’s the perfect length for a sport. I think that if baseball games were shortened to this length, younger fans would get more interested in baseball. Pitchers wouldn’t have to pitch as much, preventing injuries. If baseball must be played at such a slow pace, making each inning more urgent makes a 162 game season more interesting, and more appealing to the next generation.

About the author

Alan "Jedi" Zaugg

Alan “Jedi” Zaugg is managing editor of TornBySports and host of the Jedi & Jerms podcast. He’s an avid NBA fan and basketball junkie and passionate sports enthusiast. He enjoys writing and illustrating. He hosts a Star Wars podcast and writes for The Cantina Cast in addition to a myriad of other projects. He also writes fantasy and science fiction in his spare time. You can follow him on Twitter: @jedizaugg