No, Game Length Isn’t Hurting Attendance

“If the people don’t want to come out to the ballpark, nobody’s going to stop them.” – Yogi Berra

The Pirates and Cubs played a 16-inning game last week and few people who stayed until the end cared that it took almost six hours. Most would have stayed until the sun came up. But longer games are apparently the last thing some people want to see.

A “high-ranking executive” told Buster Olney on Monday he was so worried about games being too long that he proposed shortening them to seven innings. He backed the idea so strongly that he would not allow his name to be published in connection with it.

I would never support making games seven innings, but game length comes up every year, so maybe something does need to change. But before we get ahead of ourselves let’s actually look at the numbers: How long are games, really? And is attendance falling because of it?

Click to see full-size.
Click to see full size.

The length record was set in 2000, when the average game was 178 minutes long. It dropped off after that, but according to the guys holding the stopwatches games have once again increased in length over the past decade. By a whopping ten minutes. Ten minutes, guys. That’s more than nine minutes! It does add up though, over a whole season that’s 27 hours that you could have spent doing whatever it is you do when you aren’t watching baseball… reading high quality baseball blogs perhaps.

Surely this 5% increase in game length has driven fans past their threshold for how much baseball they can consume, right? Eh.

Click to see full size.
Click to see full size.

The attendance has clearly been more chaotic over the past decade than the length of games, but it was higher last year than it was in 2004. The major drop was between two seasons in which there was virtually no change in game length. Besides, even if it were declining it would take a lot more than a few graphs to say that it was due to game length.

Younger fans may want shorter games, but if a 2-hour, 50-minute game is fine when a 2-hour, 57-minute game is too long, then the problem isn’t baseball.

Sources: One and Two

This post was originally published at The McEffect.

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