It happens every year during baseball playoff time. Games start late, they end late, and everyone complains. The phenomenon reared its ugly head yesterday when the Phillies-Rockies game started after 10 p.m. and ended after 2 a.m. The issue of start times is always a hot one.
I will have a large piece analyzing the issue in tomorrow’s paper with comment from baseball and TBS, but here is a little Q&A that may help people understand why things are the way they are.
Q: Why did this game start so late? I can’t stay up!
A: Games start late because during baseball’s division series, there are four series going on at once, often with three games played in a single day. In order to ensure games don’t overlap, at least one of the games has to be played around 9 or 10 p.m.
Q: Ok, but why did THAT game start so late?
A: Usually, the late games will involve teams from the West Coast or Mountain time zones. It might be late for people on the East Coast, but not necessarily for fans of the Angels, Dodgers or Rockies. Last night’s Rockies-Phillies game started late for us East Coasters, but it was only 8 p.m. in Denver. If the Red Sox - Angels game were moved to the late slot, it would have been played at 10 p.m. local time in Boston. If the Yankees-Twins game were the late one, it would have been 9 p.m. local time in Minneapolis.
Q: But who’s watching games this late?
A: Believe it or not, ratings actually increase the later games go. The most popular viewing window is 11 p.m., when networks can get viewers from all time zones in prime time.
Q: Can’t they play games at the same time?
A: They could, but they’ve tried this and it’s been unpopular. Baseball has also tried regionalizing coverage and that was a public relations disaster. The current system with TBS keeps the games all on one network and back to back, making it easy to find the games and keeping viewership up. This is the playoffs, and baseball believes every team deserves its own exclusive national window.
Q: What if they added off days to ensure there aren’t three games played on the same day?
A: The season is already long enough as it is, with the World Series now pushed into November. The NBA and NHL include more off days to avoid overlaps, and it’s one of the biggest fan complaints.
Q: Why do the Yankees get the plush time slots?
A: Face it, they are the most popular team and will likely get the most prime slot whenever possible. But the Twins-Yankees series was also probably the most East Coast-centric series. All the other series included teams from out West.
Q:Why did the Rockies and Phillies play two day games last week? I was the office and couldn’t watch.
A: It’s not ideal, but if you have three games in one day, one of them has to take place during the day. Out of all divisional series games, only two took place on a weekday during the day.
As for why the Rockies and Phillies both got stuck during the day, they just got unlucky. Last Wednesday, one of the other games that day was St. Louis at Los Angeles. If the first game is supposed to be played around 2:30 p.m. ET, that’s 11:30 a.m. in California, which is too early.
The other game that Wednesday was Minnesota at New York. That game could have been scheduled as the early one, but baseball likely wanted to have a prime time showing of the first playoff game at the new Yankee Stadium. But more importantly, the Twins had played a 12-inning game at home the night before against the Tigers just to reach the playoffs. To have them travel to New York and play a game at 2:30 p.m. would have been unfair.
As for Thursday, the Phillies and Rockies were up against games being played in Anaheim and Los Angeles. Again, a 2:30 pm. ET start would be too early on the West Coast.