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New MLB rules a home run with fans

Limits on time might be the best thing to help new audiences reach the MLB.

Kyle Gollins EVP, Head of Americas Commercial 15/03/2023
52% of fans say they often do something else on their phones while watching MLB in particular.

After extensive Minor League-level testing over several years, Major League Baseball has announced new rule changes for the 2023 season designed to improve the pace of play and overall fan experience. Research shows 34% of US baseball fans and 51% of heavily invested or hardcore fans think the sport is slow and boring.

Aside from my role at Savanta, I’m also a youth baseball coach. I spend my evenings and weekends leading a team of 10-year-olds. While these boys are familiar with the teams and the biggest stars within the game, few of them actually watch the games on TV.

MLB’s effort to speed up game play, with baseball taking on average three hours to finish, pitchers now have 15 seconds to complete a delivery with bases empty and 20 seconds with runners on bases. In addition, batters will be limited to one timeout per appearance on the plate, with an additional 30-second timer between hitters.

Looking back on the game’s need for change, 46% of US baseball fans think the games have historically been too long, and 52% of fans, 64% of hardcore fans, say they often do something else on their phones while watching MLB in particular. MLB audiences have not been engaged for a long time, and the primary cause has been the tedious and lengthy gameplay.

Comparing baseball across the sports market, 70% of US Baseball fans like watching higher-paced sports on TV, like basketball or football. Although players show mixed reviews across the rule so far, audiences are delighted with the new pitch clock rule, with 70% of fans, including those heavily invested in the sport, in favor of the decision. The pitch clocks added a layer of imminence, allowing the action and intensity to be at the forefront of the game without the distraction many other sports can’t afford.

Fans also expect to be more attracted to the game, with 58% of US baseball fans and two-thirds (66%) of hardcore fans saying they will become more engaged in watching MLB due to the pitch clock rule. And 69% of fans, 78% of hardcore fans, agree the pitch clock rule will make the sport a better television product.

With new rules being implemented for the 2023 season starting on March 30th and spring training already up and running, it’s making fans and spectators very happy to see such a difference in the speed and delivery of the game. Two-thirds of fans, and 75% of hardcore fans, even say implementing such a rule will help grow the game of baseball across audiences. And many wished the restriction was put in place well before this year. MLB should have implemented the rule well before 2023, says 62% of fans. 60% of fans, 71% of hardcore fans, want the clock added in all levels of baseball across the US.

Spring training has opened with its fair share of hurdles and adjustments, including players needing clarification or help to make sense of the new rule, although reviews mostly stay positive. Fans are conscious that players will need time to adjust, with 43% of baseball fans believing the pitch clock will negatively impact players this season. Hardcore fans are significantly more apprehensive of the game’s reshaping and player adoption (59%).

To find out what other research Savanta has found across the sports market, take a look at our page and case studies here.