Less Time Means Less Money for Major League Baseball

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Major League Baseball (MLB) officials believed, rightly or wrongly, that they were losing audiences and failing to recruit a new generation of fans because the games were too long. Thus, baseball made the decision this past off-season that games needed to be shorter.

One of baseball’s appeals has long been its lack of a clock. Of the major team sports around the world, it is the only one that doesn’t involve time. Each team gets 27 outs, no matter how long that takes. And there is no such thing as a tie. The game will go on until a winner has been decided.

However, this year, we have a pitch clock. Each team still gets 27 outs, but because pitchers now have just 15 seconds to throw the next pitch to the plate (20 seconds when runners are on base), those 54 total outs are taking nearly a half an hour less.

Mission accomplished, MLB.

The Law of Unintended Consequences

Baseball wanted shorter games. But what they hadn’t fully considered is what it actually meant to the bottom line to have patrons in their cars and headed home earlier in the night. Most specifically, the consideration hadn’t included alcohol sales, which are expected to be up to $1 million less for some teams over the course of a season, according to sports business newsletter and investments writer Joe Pompliano.

Teams are already working to mitigate those losses, with a number of teams announcing the extension of alcohol sales through the eighth inning, as opposed to the end of the seventh, which had been the league standard.

One other place where revenue is being lost is baseball betting, and specifically in-play and live wagering on baseball games. There are just as many at-bats in each game. There are just as many pitches. But with the time reduced between each pitch, there is less time for bettors to make their in-play wagers. And, of course, fewer opportunities to make wagers means less revenue for sportsbooks.

The Big Business of Microbetting

Last season, each of the 2,430 regular season baseball games averaged 292 pitches. Over the course of the season, that is 709,560 pitches and 709,560 opportunities to place a micro bet on whether the pitch will be a strike, ball, hit, or out.

By some estimates, micro betting accounts for more than 40% of baseball in-play wagering, and time is its best friend. The sportsbook sets the line on the next pitch, which takes a few seconds, and the books themselves operate with a three- to four-second delay to prevent advantages for people at the actual game over fans and bettors streaming the action at home.

With between five and six seconds being shaved off each pitch because of the clock, that is thousands of fewer bets that can be placed every night. 

MLB Says All Will be Fine

Before the season began, Major League Baseball brushed off suggestions that a shorter game would have a negative impact on betting revenue. They said that adding to the fan experience, which a clock allegedly does, will actually increase betting.

Data is moving faster than last year, and the speed in which lines are being set are faster than ever before. Some sportsbooks have also made the decision to reduce their built-in delays or eliminate them altogether. And baseball itself says that it is looking to increase the menu of available betting options at baseball games, which will only enhance the micro betting market.

MLB Chief Revenue Officer Noah Garden told Yahoo Finance that baseball’s embrace of sports betting is only going to increase. “We have more to come. [Gambling] is doing exactly what we thought. But at the same time, we need to innovate in the way people gamble. We still need to provide more content to that section of our fans.”

Maybe two weeks of baseball isn’t quite enough to truly identify a trend. It’s possible, even likely, that fans will adjust to the pitch clock, just as they have to every other rule change in recent years. And it’s a certainty that if Major League Baseball and the sportsbooks who feature it do find that they are losing money, they will find a way to fix that.

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