If fans can't fill Fenway Park this summer, the Red Sox hope they'll watch on TV. Whether anyone will still be conscious for the last pitch doesn't look like a priority.
Baseball released its schedule on Tuesday via a convoluted MLB Network special, and once the Red Sox revealed their 60-game slate, three digits immediately jumped off the page: 7, 3, and 0.
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That would be the new 7:30 p.m. start time for 23 of Boston's 30 home games, a departure from the traditional 7:10 starts and exactly the opposite direction many fans had hoped the schedule would move with record numbers working from home, if they're lucky enough to be employed at all.
Those fans envisioned games starting no later than 7 p.m., with maybe even the return of the occasional weekday matinee. But the Red Sox are looking to wring every last cent out of this diaper pail of a season, and that means scraping as much of their product into the 8-11 p.m. primetime window as possible.
Baseball's eternal quest to make fans out of the children won't benefit, especially when games run well over three hours on an average night.
If the Red Sox were broadcast on network TV, they'd be pre-empting the local news two or three nights a week. Last year they played 62 games that lasted at least three and a half hours and would end after 11 p.m. now.
If you thought a three-and-a-half-hour baseball game was a tough sell in normal times, just wait until it's bumping against Jimmy Fallon and you've got nowhere to send the kids the next morning except the driveway. "Avengers: Endgame" has a shorter runtime.
Before this turns into too much of a polemic, I should acknowledge my sympathy for the plight of a fan-less season. The Red Sox are a business and their primary economic driver in these coronavirus times will be TV. They've left open the possibility of revisiting first pitch times if fans are allowed in the stands. Were I in their shoes, I wouldn't start games at 5 or 6 p.m., either.
That said, there was an obvious solution that would've greatly increased the odds of fans watching from start to finish and still getting to bed around 10, and that's a 7 p.m. start.
Winding back the games even 10 minutes would send the message that in this shortened season, born of an unnecessarily rancorous fight between the players and owners, the fans still mattered most. Starting the games later, however, says that the club's TV and business partners come first, a perfect metaphor for present-day America.
It's just another example of baseball's limitless capacity for short-sightedness. As the Red Sox grasp for ways to maximize profits today, they whiff on a chance to grow the game's future. The pandemic presents, for lack of a better word, an opportunity to engage fans in new ways.
Starting the games a hair earlier tells them, "We know you can't stay up all night, and we want to help." The later starts send a different message: "This is when our games will air. You will adjust your lives accordingly."
Here's the problem with that approach. What if fans decide that nightly slogs until 11 p.m. aren't worth their time? What if they make a different adjustment, one that sounds like this?