Shortened season could indirectly become MLB norm

The coronavirus may force a shortened MLB season in 2020. Could shortened seasons become the new norm if ratings prove off the charts?

So, it seems Major League Baseball fans have begrudgingly opened their minds to an inevitable shortened 2020 season. Heck, at this point we all have our fingers crossed that any version of a season transpires. My concern is that a shortened MLB season occurs and the game’s key decision makers become sold on the idea of diminishing future seasons.

The coronavirus has taken over, forcing all sports activities to a screeching halt. The NBA and NHL may have to sacrifice a postseason, golf’s crowned event has been canceled, and human beings everywhere were deprived of the opportunity to see how their brackets played out during March Madness.

Times are tough for fans of any sport, though I’d argue baseball fans have it the worst. The season was so close. We were just weeks away from glorified Opening Day; instead, we get the tease of warm-up spring training baseball. Now, we’re in limbo. Some say baseball will return in May, others say June. Some say a full season remains possible, others say we’ll be lucky to experience half a season. Regardless, we’re in for a downright strange year.

Consider a hypothetical in which baseball returns July 1st. A team would have typically played roughly 90 games at that point, but the date marks Opening Day of 2020. Fans throughout the country and around the world will be thrilled that a major sport is back, and a swarm of attention will be directed to MLB. People won’t be dragged down by the “dog days of summer;” no one will feel the need for a break from sports. Borderline baseball fans will upgrade to devoted baseball fans – at least temporarily.

The stakes will be high from the get-go. MLB will likely restructure each team’s schedule to maintain crucial inter-division games, players facing free agency will have less time to influence their next contract, and every member of an organization will be pressured by the time crunch. These all seem like variables to a riveting season that could contribute to lofty ratings.

Perhaps less is more. Perhaps a truncated season is what the game needs. Major League Baseball is obsessed with growing its popularity among millennials and Generation Z. A big part of that is appealing to minimal attention spans and a tiny window of opportunity to entertain. MLB has made efforts by enforcing rules to shorten games; the league could go a step further by shortening the season – this one unintentionally, but future ones intentionally.

I’ve often wondered what it would be like if MLB played a 16-game season like the NFL. Every game would hold such extreme importance that fans would look forward to it all week and be on the edge of their seats come first pitch. Each game would be in absurd demand.

Obviously, MLB won’t cut the season by 146 games. But could they cut it to 100 games? 130? There’s been talk of a 154-game season, though I don’t see the point in ditching only eight games. Players would have a few more days off, but the idea is far from dramatic.

MLB does not have the time to trial a bunch of different options. The commissioner can’t treat the game like a hand-by-hand poker strategy. He can’t experiment to see how the ratings of a 130-game season compare to a 162-game season. Though, he might get the chance to see the impact of a shortened season this year. He must be careful, however, as the results will be skewered due to unusually high demand after the coronavirus lockdown.

As for me, I am a traditionalist. I like the long season. I like coming home from work every day knowing a game is on, and even the occasional Monday or Thursday off from my team annoys me. If the season could be more than 162 games, I would be in favor. But I understand the priority of growing viewership, and that MLB must explore ways to do that.

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It seems like Major League Baseball has been searching for reasons to cut back the number of games played. We may get the chance to see that play out this year. I just hope it doesn’t become the new norm.

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