Baseball is doing more and more clock-watching

MLB Primary Marks - Digital ArtThe one thing that gnaws at Major League Baseball and its commissioner, Rob Manfred, more than anything else it seems, is pace of play. Baseball can’t do anything, apparently, in less than three hours.

It’s the bane of Manfred’s existence. Baseball, which throughout its history has been known as a sport without a clock, now has a clock in every stadium to mark the time between innings, to measure coaching visits to the pitcher’s mound and how much time a manager has to ask for a replay review.

But the thing that swallows up the most time during baseball games — and, obviously, every other televised sporting event — is advertising.

Commercial breaks between innings and during pitching changes can be brutal, especially on nationally televised games. Contracts allow for even longer breaks during nationally televised games than for those just shown regionally.

It’s not easy for baseball to do much to significantly cut down the pace of play when the thing that makes it the worst has nothing to do with play. It takes place when there is no play going on at all. It’s difficult to cut back on the thing that pays the bills.

But Manfred is giving it a shot. MLB experimented during Tuesday night’s game between the Colorado Rockies and the St. Louis Cardinals with shorter commercial breaks.

The game, shown nationally on MLB Network, as well as regionally on AT&T SportNet Rocky Mountain and Fox Sports Midwest, reduced its ad breaks from 2 minutes, 25 seconds to 1:45, according to SportsBusiness Daily.

Apparently to make up for the lost revenue in advertising time, the game also experimented in virtual advertising, i.e., digitally displaying corporate logos not only behind home plate, but also in the batter’s eye area, in foul territory near the first- and third-base line and along the top of the stadium.

The whole thing had to get cooperation not only from the teams and networks, but also from the MLB Players Association and the World Umpires Association unions.

It all went great, except for one thing: The game still took, 3 hours, 11 minutes to play, five minutes longer than this year’s MLB average, which is at an all-time high.

According to baseball-reference.com, time of game first averaged more than three hours in 2014. It managed to dip to 2:56 the next season, but went to 3:00 in 2016 and is at 3:05 this year.

The average time of game was 2:55 10 years ago and 2:56 20 years ago. In 1990, it was 2:51, in 1980 it was 2:38 and in 1970 it was 2:34.

THE LATE PAC-12

The Pacific-12 Conference is also looking for ways to make its football games shorter. At its media days this week, the conference said it plans a pilot program during some nonconference games this season to make games shorter.

The Los Angeles Times said the measures include cutting halftime from 20 to 15 minutes and cutting several minutes of TV commercials.

The Pac-12 hasn’t announced which games will be in the program yet because they need approval from visiting teams.

The conference suffers from having a lot of its games shown at night. The average time of a college football game was 3 hours, 24 minutes last season.

GREEN LIGHT FOR EARNHARDT

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s contract to join NBC next year was finally made official this week. Exactly how he’ll be used in the network’s NASCAR coverage remains to be seen. It also seems pretty likely that the iconic driver will occasionally be doing more than just auto racing.

Sam Flood, NBC Sports executive producer and president of production, told reporters this week there have been discussions about Earnhardt branching out.

“We’ve had conversations, and this is a deal with all of NBCUniversal, so it’s not just NASCAR,” Flood said. “So we’ve talked about football, we’ve talked about the Olympics, we’ve talked about other parts of the company.

“I could see him being involved, if it’s the right fit for him and for us. We’re not going to say. ‘You’re going to go off and do a feature on football,’ we’re going to say, ‘Hey, does this make sense for both sides to get you involved in something here, be it the Super Bowl, be it the Olympics. There’s a lot of speed events in the Olympics. Could be an interesting match for Dale.”

UP & DOWN THE DIAL

The British Open earned a 3.6 big-market overnight rating on NBC for the final round Sunday. Jordan Spieth’s victory was down 8% from last year’s final round, in which Henrik Stenson won over Phil Mickelson. … The BIG3 three-on-three basketball league has seen declining viewership on Fox Sports 1 since it debuted the first of its one-day delayed telecasts on June 26, but the shows are still substantially better than what the network was showing last year at this time, according to SBD. The first telecast in Brooklyn was seen by 400,000 viewers. The ones since then have been seen by 235,000, 129,000 and 148,000. …

Sunday NFL Countdown on ESPN and Fantasy Football Now on ESPN2 will both be expanded to three hours when they debut for this season on Sept. 10. … The Big Ten Conference has extended its contracts with CBS, Fox and ESPN for six years each. … Lisa Byington will become the first woman to do play-by-play of a college football game on Big Ten Network when she calls Northwestern-Bowling Green on Sept. 16. … Ray Lewis, previously on ESPN, will join Showtime’s Inside the NFL this season starting Sept. 5. … Sporting News reports ESPN is trying to get Fox’s Charissa Thompson to join Mike Greenberg as a co-host for his new morning show debuting Jan. 1.

The Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants, truly a mismatch this season, will be on national TV this weekend from Dodger Stadium. Saturday’s game will be on FS1 as well as SportsNet LA at 1 p.m. PDT and Sunday’s game will be a Sunday Night Baseball game exclusively on ESPN at 5 p.m. … FS1 will also show Reds-Marlins on Saturday at 4 p.m. TBS will have Cubs-Brewers at 11 a.m. Sunday. … And this is for helicopter parents everywhere: ESPN says it will show a record 140 Little League baseball and softball games across six networks (including ESPNews, ESPNU and even the Longhorn Network) between this Sunday and Aug. 27.

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