There should be more afternoon baseball. This isn’t really up for debate. There are certainly economical, logistical and legal reasons that there isn’t more afternoon baseball, but they can all be negotiated in service of the greater good: More baseball, in the afternoons, when the sun is out. This is the ideal to which we should strive, because it is the best thing.
Under my plan, which follows, there would be at least one afternoon baseball game per day. It would be a mandatory part of the schedule. You would be able to ask a friend, “Who’s playing the afternoon game?” and they should know what they’re talking about. Your friend should be able to respond to you, “I don’t know, probably the Cubs?” and you should nod, because the odds are relatively good that it will be a Cubs game.
The Cubs are a bellwether. Their success proves it is time to return to day games. They have persisted in the afternoon forever, and it took 108 years for the game to finally come full-circle on them, but it did. Now they are the game’s signature franchise and they play in the afternoon at home more often than they don’t. This is codified with an agreement with the City of Chicago that limits them to 35 regular season night games per year. This agreement exists to keep the cramped Wrigleyville neighborhood as quiet as possible at night, which isn’t very quiet, but more quiet than when there is, in fact, a Cubs game.
For a long time it seemed the afternoon games were part of the Cubs’ woes, but after last season we can throw those concerns in the woodchipper. More importantly, our schedule of afternoon games has a hard floor of 46 afternoon Cubs home games per year, ensuring that they will play a plurality of the games. That is fine.
What is not fine are games before empty stadiums, but I’m not concerned about them. If the afternoon game is normalized people will come to embrace it and plan for it. Furthermore, given the increase in flexible work scheduling for the baseball-game-attending demographic, I am certain that teams could draw an acceptable number of fans to make the game an acceptable television product.
If we do that, we’re golden, because I really just want to watch more baseball on television. First off, the games could be broadcast on the MLB Network, thus pre-empting regular non-baseball-game programming, which is good. Second, there is a huge audience for baseball on MLB.tv, the gold standard of sports streaming services, and the afternoon game would ensure a yearly stream of live programming.
We talk a lot about “second screen” experiences, but the proliferation of literal second screens means almost anyone can watch a game while they sit in front of their computer, doing something else. With, again, an increasingly mobile and staggered schedule/workplace workforce, there is only a growing potential national and international viewership. Plus, there’s me, who wants it.
These are the benefits, which are irrefutable. The downside is that local cable viewership is the league’s engine, and local television viewership gets a lot more eyeballs at night. This is why most games are held at night and will continue to be long after the publication of this column. This is a knotty issue, and my conclusion is that the powers that be should fix it in a way that there should be an afternoon game every day.
Actually, I’ll be reasonable and say once a week, there will be no afternoon game. Tuesday could be the day with no afternoon games and everyone would just know it. Monday and Thursday need the games for travel purposes, Friday is Cubs Day, and I want to watch today’s Reds/Brewers game, so Tuesday it is. This would ease the scheduling burden and kick 20 percent of potential lost revenues back to the home team’s cable station. Spread that risk over the remaining non-Cubs teams and it becomes extremely small.
That’s my concession. But I want something in return: None of these games will be in Tampa. The Rays are exempted. No one wants to watch baseball in that building. Not in person and not on television. So the rule will dictate afternoon games every day except Tuesday, and never in Tampa. That’ll work. Adjust your life accordingly. It is now law.