If you are regularly watching live baseball games on television or attending them in person, you might have noticed the tendency to start at times that don’t match the full hour. This is peculiar since in most other sports the start times are precisely aligned to a full hour so they can neatly fit into TV slots and the spectators can be sure when to arrive. However, in baseball this is usually not the case, and it’s quite common for the first pitch of an MLB game to be thrown anywhere between 7 and 15 minutes after the full hour.
If you are curious why baseball games start at odd times, you might have spent quite some time searching for a satisfactory answer. We prepared a detailed explanation of this strange trend and list several factors that significantly contribute to it.
When does a typical baseball game start?
While baseball was historically considered to be a daytime sport, in recent years more games are being pushed into later starts, thanks largely to the existence of electric lighting at all MLB ballparks. Most MLB games start late in the afternoon and extend long into the evening, with starts between 18:30 and 19:30 being the most common. The exact time may vary depending on numerous factors, including the day of the week, whether the game is a part of a doubleheader, etc. Still, it’s a bit surprising to see a game start at 7:06 or 7:09 since this time may not be so easy to remember and doesn’t seem to make too much sense.
Of course, games are scheduled according to local times, so at what time baseball games start for a particular TV viewer depends on the location. Since MLB ballparks are located in four different time zones, so a game that starts around 19 hours on the Pacific coast will have a very late start for viewers on the Atlantic coast. The difference may be even larger for international fans. While national TV networks usually specify the time zone that the displayed game time refers to (most commonly Eastern Time), it’s easy to make a mistake and assume that the given time is local. That’s why it’s wise to double-check before you call your friends over to watch a baseball game together.
Is the start of an MLB game driven by the TV schedule?
Television deals are accounting for a large chunk of the revenue for MLB and its teams, so it’s completely understandable that concerns about the broadcast may affect the schedule. TV broadcasts typically start at a full hour, so it is counterintuitive that game times are not precisely matched with the available slots. This becomes clearer once you consider what the broadcast consists of – the stations prefer to start with the national anthem and some commentary along with a block of commercials before the real action begins.
This is the principal explanation as to why baseball games start at odd times, as some extra time is needed to fit the aforementioned intro segment. Effectively, this means a game might start several minutes after the full hour, which may seem awkward to the fans at the park or viewers who just want to tune in and watch baseball right away. Of course, there is a pre-game program at the stadium as well that might include a ceremonial first pitch or a moment to celebrate former players or honor special guests. In general, having a few extra minutes available allows for a more relaxed start of the game, so it’s a win-win for the league as well as the networks.
Do sponsorship deals affect game starting times?
It’s hard to deny that MLB is a money-driven enterprise that is willing to negotiate with sponsors about a wide variety of details related to the game organization. While the attention of most sponsors is focused on branding within the park and similar visibility campaigns, there is a famous example when a company that supported the league directly incorporated game start times into its promotional effort. Chicago White Sox started all of their home games at exactly 7:11 for a while – which was done to accommodate the Seven Eleven brand, which was the main sponsor of the team at the time.
Sponsors are also generally happy to have more time for commercials, and they don’t mind if MLB games start 5-10 minutes after the full hour. A longer game is beneficial for the monetization of the game, as it allows for more commercially-oriented activities to be added, either at the ballpark or in the TV broadcast. However, the league is mindful not to make the games too long, so the period inserted at the start of the game is kept at a reasonable level.
How much do fans care about the odd start times of MLB games?
It may sound strange, but fans are mostly OK with baseball games starting at odd times. Since MLB games are played on all days of the week and many fans try to beat the rush hour and get to the stadium directly from work, having a few minutes to spare can mean the difference between arriving on time and missing a part of the first inning. Some extra time on the clock also allows visitors in the park to find their seats, buy concessions, or visit a toilet before the teams take the field.
Casual fans might be surprised at first as to why would baseball games start at such odd times, but it doesn’t take long to simply accept this fact and live with it. Many things about baseball are a bit quirky, and this is just one of them. Once you get used to the fact that a game won’t start at a full hour, it becomes easy to plan around this fact and even take advantage of it. In the end, fans care about seeing their teams play (and preferably win), regardless of the schedule and other minutiae.