- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 5, 2002

Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig has tried for years to shorten game times. So have fellow MLB executives Bob Watson, Frank Robinson and Sandy Alderson. All have failed, and average regular-season games are still languishing at just shy of three hours.
Despite all the well-intentioned speeches and new hurry-up rules, constant adjusting, procrastinating, scratching, plodding and practice swinging remain very much the norm.
MLB Advanced Media, baseball's Internet arm and the folks behind MLB.com, however, have the issue all figured out. The division has rolled out "MLB Condensed Games," a new online feature that plays right into the hands of time-crunched Americans.
Here's how it works: MLBAM takes video from each game and splices together all the pitches that result in outs, hits or walks, and adds in other relevant action such as stolen bases. A game requiring nearly 300 pitches and three hours in real time is reduced to about 85 pitches and less than 20 minutes on your computer.
The service, the brainchild of MLB president Bob DuPuy, costs $4.95 per month and games are available about 90 minutes after each one ends. Enhanced software from MLBAM partner RealNetworks Inc. attaches an updating scoreboard to follow the runs, hits and errors.
Call it baseball's version of a microwave burrito not quite adherent to authentic tradition, but ready in a flash.
"Any fan, no matter how diehard they are, simply cannot watch every single game, not of their favorite team, not of any team," said Bob Bowman, MLBAM chief executive. "The highlight shows or your local news only will have a few seconds of footage. This gives you a lot more, but not in a time-consuming way. It's every payoff pitch. It's a way to see how the game really evolved if you missed it."
Nearly 5,000 people have subscribed so far and Bowman aims to quadruple that number by December. The final number will likely hinge on how many extra games are added to the service. Similar to DirecTV's not-yet-universal Extra Innings Package, only about 35 games per week are condensed.
But are the condensed games actually doing more harm than good? For all of baseball's struggles with time, one of its key distinguishing characteristics is an independence from a clock. Each pitch brings a new sense of drama and different strategic circumstances. And Bowman concedes those nuances are lost in the hyperspeed replays.
"To me, every pitch in a game is an action pitch," he said. "But if you've missed a game, were out at work, with the family, whatever, we think is a really good way to catch up."
MLB's TV partners aren't happy either, fearing short-attention-spanned viewers will gravitate toward the quicker, albeit delayed, option. Fox Sports chairman David Hill recently called condensed games "undermining" to his broadcasts, and recent talks with MLB officials have not mollified the network's strong objections.
"Our position is very much unchanged," said Fox Sports spokesman Lou D'Ermilio tersely.
Bowman, predictably, disagrees.
"Most people want to watch things live. Just look at NBC and the Sydney Olympics," he said. "This service is best designed to geographically displaced fans who simply can't see the games live, which we figure at about half our fan base, and people with scheduling conflicts."
Regardless of any outcry from baseball purists or TV network partners, condensed games are here to stay. MLB club owners recently committed to a financing plan that will provide MLBAM up to $1million from every team in each of the next four years. The result is a start-up fund potentially reaching $120million.
Like nearly every developing tech company, MLBAM lost money last year. But thanks in part to condensed games, those days are expected to be over very soon.
"We're a business, not the marketing department of Major League Baseball. I'm not sure everyone yet realizes that," Bowman said. "That means we need to stand up, be accountable for ourselves, earn people's respect, and give the fans ways to connect with the game. If we don't do that, we haven't done our job."


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