The MLB regular season is underway — kind of. While 28 of the 30 teams will open on March 28, the Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics got things going early on Wednesday morning (in the United States) with the first of a two-game series in Japan.
The idea sounds good in theory. But the way it was executed in 2019 left much to be desired.
Playing games overseas is a definite inconvenience for American fans. But, if we haven’t already done it, this is something we all have to find a way to accept. The NBA, NFL, NHL have also all played games outside of North America. Leagues want to expand and become more global. The best practical way to do that is to send regular season games overseas.
So, while it’s inconvenient, it’s understandable.
What’s not understandable was how badly the scheduling of this series was botched.
In Oakland and Seattle, Opening Day started at 2:30 am on a Wednesday. You almost couldn’t draw up a more inconvenient time. And there was no reason for it to happen that way.
One potential idea would be to make it a night game in the United States. For reference, a 5:00 PT/8:00 ET start in the United States would be 9:00 am in Tokyo. Yes, that would be perhaps a bit inconvenient for the folks in Tokyo. But it’s significantly less inconvenient than a 2:30 am start for fans in the home markets of the two teams involved.
Just for the sake of argument, let’s say that an evening game (Tokyo time) was, in fact, needed. Okay. MLB still dropped the ball. Had this game been moved back (or forward) a few days, it would be a lot less inconvenient.
Instead of starting the game a 2:30 am Pacific Time on a Wednesday, why not try that same start time on a Saturday? Playing on a weekend is no less inconvenient for the people in Tokyo. Heck, it’s probably more convenient when we think about it. And for those A’s and Mariners fans on the American West Coast, it’s a lot easier to watch a 2:30 am game when going to work isn’t a consideration. Playing on a weekend wouldn’t eliminate that problem. But it would limit its scope.
Heck, even play it on a Friday morning. It would be a lot easier for people to watch and then just tough it out for one day at work with the weekend looming than it would be for three.
While the MLB schedule makes this essentially impossible, this wouldn’t be an issue if we were talking about two games in June. But essentially taking Opening Day away from fans? That’s a different story.
Game 1 of 162 may not mean much in the standings. But symbolically, it’s a much different story. Opening Day is something baseball fans wait for all winter. It represents not only a fresh start for their favorite teams, but also the symbolic beginning of spring. Seeing the green grass and bright sun for the first time is a great feeling. It’s why a rainout on Opening Day is such a bummer.
Taking that away from fans of the A’s and Mariners doesn’t really help MLB in a long-term way.
MLB can try to branch out globally in different ways. The fact that the Tokyo Dome was sold out tells us that this particular attempt was at least partially successful. But at its core, MLB is a regional league.
And really, we can’t dismiss that. Last October, we saw the Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox square off in the World Series. It seemed like a dream for MLB. Both are big market franchises with a great deal of history. But despite their deep individual histories, the Dodgers and Red Sox shared very little meaningful history. So, there was no risk of fatigue on the part of the fans. The series still drew poorly.
Fans are never going to watch a World Series like they do a Super Bowl. They’re not even going to watch a World Series like they do an NBA Finals. The NBA can always market its stars, which makes the Finals intriguing outside of the home markets. It’s a different story in baseball. People want to watch their teams. If they’re not playing, the interest is greatly minimized.
And here’s the kicker. That’s not a bad thing. It’s just something that MLB and its network partners need to embrace.
Having a game start at 2:30 am on a Wednesday in the home markets of the two teams? That’s the opposite of an embrace.