SLOW DOWN ON RULES CHANGES

Patrick Creighton: MLB could learn something from NBA

Jose Altuve should be marketed better. Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

In an effort to speed up pace of play, Major League Baseball has decided to implement a new rule, limiting trips to the mound that can be made by managers, coaches, and players that do not result in a pitching change to 6 per 9 innings.

While teams will get one extra trip per inning in extra innings, the rule extends to catchers talking to pitchers and position players on the infield talking to pitchers as well.  Umpires will have the ability to deny mound trips should a team use up all of its permitted visits.

Baseball tells us the length of games is a ‘fan issue’, and not from fans at games.  The problem is fans watching on tv.  Baseball has plenty of research that shows fans watching at home think the games are too slow and too long.

Last year, the average MLB game was 3 hours and 5 minutes.  The average NFL game was 3 hours and 7 minutes.  The average college football game was 3 hours and 24 minutes.  However, its fans watching baseball who are complaining and MLB is taking notice.

While it’s good to see baseball listen to their fans, their course of action is highly questionable.  It appears they are trying to put a small patch on a hole that will lead to a massive burst in the dam.

When mound conferences occur, the defense is changing signs, changing indicators, realigning the defense, etc.  Not permitting these conferences leads to the batter having an advantage.  This is great for offense, but therein lies the problem.

Pitching duels don’t last 3 hours.  Games with lots of baserunners and lots of hits make for longer games.  Limiting the ability of the pitcher and defense to make adjustments to situational baseball or to change up signs that may be stolen will only leads to more walks, more hits, more baserunners, and more runs.  All of those things make the game longer.  

Now, I am not someone who has a problem with the length of games.  I love baseball, and enjoy the intricacies of the game.  Baseball is the thinking man’s game.  There is strategy to implement on every pitch, but not everyone looks at baseball this way.  The hardcore fan does but the casual fan does not, and every sport needs the casual fan to boost their ratings and sell their merchandise.

So why are fans complaining about the length of baseball games and not of NFL or CFB games?  The biggest reason is that fans aren’t engaged in the game.

This is where MLB could really learn a lesson from the NBA.

While TV ratings in general are down 9%, and the NFL’s ratings were down nearly that same number (correlation to the market), the NBA’s ratings are actually up.  This is because the NBA markets their players incredibly well, which causes people to care about those players, those teams, and be engaged in the game.

Regardless of what market a player is in, the NBA markets their better players.  Not only do they show their highlights on the court, but they give players an everyday face as well, endearing them to the culture.  Baseball fails miserably here, still a slave to its local/regional mindset.

As a result, casual fans have no idea who the better players in the league are, no connection to those teams, and no real engagement into the game.  

During the World Series, Game 2 went 4 hours and 19 minutes.  It was a great game with a terrific comeback.  No one complained about the length of the game, it was considered an incredible game.  Game 5 went 5 hours and 17 minutes in what was one of the greatest games in recent World Series history.  No complaints about game length.  Why?  Everyone watching the game was engaged.  They knew the teams, they knew the players, and they had a reason to care.

Baseball should look at the model the NBA uses in promoting its players and copy it to the letter.  Let fans around the country know who the stars of the game are and what teams they play for.

The NBA doesn’t worry about market size or how good the team’s record is, as Giannis Antetokuonmpo plays in Milwaukee, Joel Embiid plays in Philadelphia, Demar DeRozan plays in Toronto, Anthony Davis is in New Orleans, Damian Lillard is in Portland.  None of those players are on teams that are higher than 6th in the conference, except DeRozan, and he plays in another country.

MLB should be showing the world Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon in Colorado, Brad Hand in San Diego, Freddie Freeman in Atlanta, Avisail Garcia in Chicago, Jonathan Schoop in Baltimore, etc.  Heck, Jose Altuve was MVP and the most exposure he got for most of the year was a picture of him standing next to Aaron Judge looking like a 4th grader standing next to a giant. While Altuve is starting to make the national landscape, it should be noted that he’s led the AL in hits 4 straight years and in AVG 3 of the last 4, has gone from 13th to 10th to 3rd in the MVP race before winning in 2017 and he’s STARTING to make the national landscape.  This is a horrendous failure of marketing by baseball.

Rob Manfred needs to make a phone call to Adam Silver, and ask for some pointers, because MLB is light years behind the NBA in how to market players.  Well marketed players make fans care.  Fans who care don’t complain about game length.

Patrick Creighton can be heard on “Nate & Creight” 1-3p Mon-Fri on Sportsmap 94.1 FM & Sundays 12-5p CT on SB Nation Radio.  Follow him on Twitter @Pcreighton1

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Texans vs. Vikings could have fans in attendance. Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

The Houston Texans say it's time that fans were allowed to cheer on the home team at NRG Stadium. On Thursday, the team announced extensive safety protocols that would put 15,000 fans in the stands for the Week 4 game against the Minnesota Vikings on Oct. 4.

While the Texans are awaiting permission from city and county officials to host a limited number of fans - socially distant and wearing masks – no plans have been announced how much tickets will cost, and who'll have the opportunity to buy them.

You have to love the free enterprise system: hundreds of tickets for the Oct. 4 game already are on sale on secondary market websites. Lower bowl tickets are going for $800 and up. If you don't mind sitting in the nose bleeds, tickets can be had for around $250.

So the question becomes, if you had the chance, would you attend the Texans game in early October? The tickets are big bucks, and there is a whammy – COVID-19. While the rate of COVID-19 infections is on the decline in Houston, the virus remains a major factor in our daily lives, and there's no guarantee that the pandemic won't spike here again.

Here's the rub, at least for me. Of all the sports we have in Houston, a Texans game might be lowest on my wish list of attending in person. Television does NFL games the best. There are dozens of cameras, so when a receiver catches a pass on the sidelines, we get several views, in slow motion even, to see if the receiver's feet were in bounds. We can almost feel the crunch of a quarterback sack. We get highlights of other games. You don't have to sit next to a face painter like David Puddy.

The NFL is a made-for-TV production. Which is, I suspect, part of the reason the Texans rarely open the roof at NRG Stadium. With the roof closed, the field becomes a controlled TV studio, with no worries of weather pranks.

Television doesn't do basketball or baseball nearly as well. Conversely, the experience of attending those games is terrific fun. What beats eating a couple of dogs at an Astros game? Is there even a traditional food at NFL or NBA games?

The Texans promise that strict safety rules will be enforced. And I believe them. Fans will be scattered over the 67,000-seat stadium. I'm not sure how much of a home field advantage that will be. Most of the crowd noise will come from pre-recorded tapes.

Here's one worry. Sure fans will sit apart and socially distanced. But what will happen when the game is over? Will fans file out in orderly, non-contagious single file? I flew Southwest a few weeks ago. The airline makes a big deal – we don't sell the middle seat. Passengers kept their distance during the flight. When the landed, you know how it is, everybody got up and piled into the aisle, shoulder to shoulder for several minutes.

What will happen if some goofball takes off his/her mask during the Texans game? Will there be enough security to handle each case?

Baseball is planning to have some fans attend post-season games at Minute Maid Park next month. UH Cougars, the Dynamo and Dash are playing in front of small crowds. It remains to be seen how safe – or how risky – allowing fans at sports events will be.

Will parents let their kids attend? Is waiting for a vaccine the smart play? If President Trump is right, that could be only a matter of weeks away. If scientists and doctors are right, nestle in for pandemic life another year. Even if scientists do come up with a vaccine, how many Americans will roll up their sleeve? Some believe, in the case of COVID-19, the cure may be worse than the disease. Not me, the moment Dr. Fauci says the vaccine is safe and effective, I'm sprinting to CVS.

The thinnest of silver linings, if ever there was a year worth sitting out, 2020 has been it for Houston sports fans. The Astros are scratching to stay above .500 (their present position), Jose Altuve hasn't had an extra base hit or RBI in almost a month, and Justin Verlander is throwing bullpens on his way to recovery. The Rockets are searching for a new coach, and possibly another team willing to take Russell Westbrook in a trade. The Texans season could go either way, we'll know if a few short weeks.

Why the rush to fill stadiums? The NBA is thriving in a bubble. Why not baseball and football? There's a fine line between safe and sorry.

The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo already has safety plans for next year, including masks and distancing. That will be interesting. Good luck controlling crowds pushing and shoving for corn dogs and funnel cakes.

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