Invariably, when the subjects of pace of play and length of game come up in the baseball context – and boy have they frequently this offseason – it isn’t long before someone points out that the length and frequency of commercials in baseball games undoubtedly contributes a significant portion of the total duration of a game. And, since the camera is, by definition, off of the action on the field, it’s a pace interrupter, too.

That’s a fair point to make in the abstract. But, of course, we know that those commercials fund the TV partners who signed the enormous broadcast rights deals that have contributed a disproportionate chunk to the MLB bottom line in the last decade. Without the ability to monetize those rights to a degree that excites them, the TV partners stop paying as much.

(Obligatory note: the Cubs are currently working on their next long-term TV deal.)

Too much ad time and your viewers tune out. Too little, and positive revenue trends turn around. So, then, there will always have to be a balance.

But, you’ll be pleased to note that Commissioner Rob Manfred is open to exploring and possibly readjusting that balance.

Speaking with Maury Brown at Forbes, Manfred said, “I fully agree with the idea of examining our commercial load in our broadcasts and is something that we should be doing,” while noting that contractual commitments in place do have some limitations. Manfred went on to discuss some additional pace of play issues, as well as continued resistance to the designated hitter in the National League, which you can read about here.

For his part, MLBPA Chief Tony Clark had some thoughts on the subject:

In other words, Clark is saying that there needs to be some kind of evaluation about how long players need between innings before chopping down the TV timeout time. They might need a lot less. Some might not need less. And if the break time is chopped down, how do you be a little flexible for the players who need some more time?

In the end, it seems like there’s an opportunity here to reduce a little of the inaction time during the game, while thinking creatively of other ways to generate television revenue (more in-game, on-screen ads? on-jersey ads? different kinds of integrated sponsorship opportunities during the game and shown on TV?). All of these things would have to be done in a thoughtful, carefully considered way, especially because live TV rights in today’s environment remain one of the most valuable assets in entertainment. Be advised that MLB and its teams are going to guard those assets very fiercely.


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