February 1, 2010
From the perspective of a hard-core baseball fan, the 162 game schedule is a terrific thing. April 4th will be the first day of a six month regular season. By the time a champion is crowned, we will have finished following seven months of Major League Baseball. However, I don't think the MLB is doing everything it can to get maximum exposure around America.
Most baseball fans get bored of seven months of baseball. The beginning of the season is always exciting for everyone because all of the teams are still in the playoff race. By the middle of the season, about half the teams have been all but eliminated from the playoff hunt and some fans stop reading the sports page every morning because it's too painful to hear about how their team is 20 games out of first place. In October, most baseball fans who took a two month break from the MLB start paying attention to the playoffs.
Major League Baseball should reduce the schedule to about 140 games. This would eliminate roughly three weeks of low TV ratings and fan boredom. Fans who are loyal to teams that hope for a .400 winning percentage every year tend to tune out for a while around the middle of the season.
The best thing Major League Baseball could do to maximize exposure in the United States would be to move the season up about one month. In October, the limelight of the MLB playoffs is partially stolen by the NFL and NCAA football. There are only 12 games in a college football season and 16 in an NFL season. Sports fans who follow baseball and football tend to shift their focus toward football in September and October because the football season is so much shorter. If the MLB season was moved up a month, only the playoffs would take place in the same season as football. Fans would find it hard to focus on football when the MLB playoffs are going on at the same time.
One downside of moving the MLB season up one month is that it would cut further into the NBA season than usual. This would be perfectly fine because more people watch the NFL and college football than the NBA. It would be much better for fans to miss the beginning of the MLB season because of the NBA playoffs than miss the MLB playoffs because of football.
Another downside of moving the MLB season up a month would be spring training weather in late January. Pitchers and catchers report between January 17th and 20th depending on the team. First, let's remember that spring training takes place in Florida and Arizona. The average late January temperature in Arizona is in the low 60s. That is more than tolerable for million dollar athletes that are working out. If a team really felt that outdoor conditions weren't good enough, they could build an indoor facility.
With all things considered, I firmly believe that it would be best for the MLB if the season was shortened and moved up one month. More people would watch the playoffs and less fans would lose interest in the middle of the season.
Max Van Hollebeke is a contributing columnist to myGameBalls.com.