It’s becoming an offseason ritual for Major League Baseball to discuss ways to solve the length-of-game problem. Two years ago, MLB directed umpires and players to enforce the already existing rule that says batters must remain in the batter’s box in between pitches. Rockies fans knew well that this addressed a real issue. Troy Tulowitzki was one of the greatest offenders, as he’d spend time in between each pitch taking a stroll, adjusting his batting gloves, and, presumably, silently reciting the first stanza of Dante’s Inferno in his head. This year, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred is allowing intentional walks to simply be signaled from the dugout in an effort to shave seconds from games. The minor leagues are also experimenting with pitch clocks and beginning extra inning games with a runner on second. But none of these address the root of the problem that will actually shorten games.
That could be changing. In Forbes, Maury Brown writes that Manfred said he’d be willing to consider a change that would have a meaningful effect in game times: shortening commercial breaks. Observers would welcome this change, as it would mean the same amount of baseball packed into a shorter time-period. In fact, Purple Row community member jrockies recently suggested this change in a FanPost. The players would probably also like the change because it would result in less standing around. But there’s one group that would not like this change at all. Advertisers would hate it.
Let’s say that MLB is able to gain consensus from owners and the MLBPA to shorten the length of commercials. This would have consequences. Advertisers see baseball broadcasts neither as entertainment nor as a binding cultural ritual, but as a means to make sure we’re aware of whatever they’re selling. MLB is more than happy to take their money to allow them to do it, and that’s why commercials are getting so long. So how would MLB make up the shortage, and how would advertisers continue to shill their wares to the audience?
What level of brand infringement on the game would be acceptable if the trade-off were shorter commercials? It’s not like in-game action isn’t already stuffed with advertising. The PITCHf/x strike on ROOT Rocky Mountain broadcasts, for example, are sponsored by a rotating cast of car companies. A different car company sponsors the slow motion camera. Nobody really wants to name a "top performer" during the game, but they have to fulfill whoever is the most recent sponsor of "top performer." When was the last time you saw a major-league pitch on television without an advertisement behind the batter? Not to mention the fact that we’re advertising for Coors every time we say Coors Field.
How far is too far for the public? Is the line logos on uniforms, either subtle like the new NBA look or egregious like European soccer? Corporate logos landscaped into the outfield grass? Would it be acceptable to take shortened commercials in exchange for rebranding the Rockies the Colorado Coorses?
This is not a losing battle against advertisers; it’s a battle already lost. It would be great to maintain some spaces without advertising (pretending for a moment that existing uniforms themselves aren’t already advertising the team, who want you to buy stuff from them), but I’d give up a little more if it meant shorter commercial breaks and games that are about 25 minutes shorter, without cutting out any actual baseball, because of it.
What do you think?