The MLB just announced its schedule for 2020. Among some other notable dates, Opening Day next season is planned for March 26th.
That’s right. March 26th. The earliest Opening Day has ever been. It’s like someone went to the league offices and said “Guys! Attendance in the first month of 2019 was some of the worst we have ever seen!”, and the league took that as a kind of challenge.
Does anybody want baseball in March? Anyone at all? Save for some states in the south and west, the weather is not conducive for seeing a game live in March. And people aren’t going to be tuning in at home at this point in the year either. It’s right in the throngs of March Madness, and the home stretches of the NHL and NBA regular seasons. There’s just too much other more interesting and more meaningful events to compete with for a sport that is slowly losing its once-storied popularity.
Let’s cut the nonsense. March is for the birds. Give us some time to shake off the St. Patrick’s Day hangover at the very least, and start the season in mid-April. You know, April? That month when it actually starts to feel like Spring? There’s no bracketology to occupy sports fans. And it’s in this critical few weeks that followers of the NHL and NBA start to look for something new once their teams have been eliminated from playoff contention. Why not try to scoop them up while they are itching for something new?
Seriously, why are we doing this?
The MLB is once again giving fans something they don’t want (I feel like I am yelling into the void sometimes). Baseball pushes the season start date up a few more days like it’s no big deal, when in reality they jeopardize one of the few things they have that no other professional sports league can even touch. And that’s Opening Day. Of course, other sports have some festivities around the first game day of the regular season. But when someone says the words “Opening Day”, you’re not thinking about football. You’re thinking about Spring. A sunny day at the ballpark. Perhaps you remember that Summer is just on the horizon. Opening Day is a brand unto itself. For some, it’s romantic. Nostalgic. There’s something hopeful about it, something special about getting lost in the anticipation of a brand new season.
And now, we buried this potential sporting gem in March. You know what Opening Day will be next year? A cool, cloudy afternoon. A game or two postponed due to weather. And a fan at home tuning in to a lethargic, half-full stadium and being instantly reminded that baseball is losing the arms race to football and basketball on the first bleeping day of a 162 game season.
And let’s address season length too. There’s no need for 162 games. No need to destroy a branding opportunity such as Opening Day to fit in more contests nobody is going to watch anyways. Why not something like a 24 week season starting mid-April? Six games played per week, with every Monday serving as an off day. One entire week off for the All-Star break. The regular season ends in late September after 144 games. It’s not perfect, but it’s a start.
Besides a shortened, slightly more tolerable regular season for sports fans, the season would begin at a time that I think many more people would be receptive to. The weather would be better, for starters. Fans (especially casual fans) would be more ready to welcome Opening Day with open arms. And maybe this helps with other issues the league ACTUALLY seems to care about. Players aren’t marketed enough? Well, maybe if they weren’t playing 3-hour games 7 nights a week from March until September, Mike Trout might be more interested in being in a commercial or two. Shortening the season might entice the players to use a little extra free time to market themselves and the sport.
It’s all about the long term
At the end of the day, baseball is in the entertainment industry. The health of the product needs to come first. More games and an earlier season might mean more money for the league and its players. But money now doesn’t necessarily mean money later. Especially if the interest of fans continues to dwindle year over year.
So let’s shorten the season a bit. Let’s give players a little more room to breathe, fans a little more time to miss the sport, and Opening Day the chance to shine as one of the more unique annual events in sports. Less can be so much more.
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