AP NEWS

Drellich: MLB looks to follow NFL lead on fewer TV breaks

February 18, 2017

FORT MYERS — At last, Roger Goodell and ownership are on the same page.

Red Sox ownership.

No one would complain about fewer cuts to commercials on NESN Red Sox telecasts. Not the fans, and apparently, not even those profiting from the ads either.

Sox chairman and NESN big wig Tom Werner, a member of MLB’s pace of play committee, said yesterday he’s on board with the idea of fewer commercial breaks in baseball — an idea the beloved NFL commissioner has promoted in his sport, as well.

“I can just speak for myself,” Werner said, “I think that is a good idea.”

Goodell spoke along similar lines ahead of the Super Bowl.

“From a commercial standpoint, we did test in Week 16 and we did test in the Yahoo! game last year, we want to look at, should we have the same number of breaks?” Goodell said. “We have five breaks per quarter. We think we can do it in four breaks per quarter. That is something that we’re leaning very heavily into. That’s not a competition committee issue, but it’s an issue with our membership and our broadcast partners.

“We see opportunities to do that and maybe we remove some of the stoppages as well as some of the commercialized aspects of the game. We think less is more in this area, and we can do it with the right balance that will improve the quality of the experience in the stadium or also on television. That’s what we’re focusing on, so I expect to see a lot of those changes this offseason.”

For two leagues that fight very different battles at times, the challenge in grabbing short attention spans is shared. Yesterday, Werner cited the NFL as a direct influence.

“One of the things that I saw that the NFL did this year, they had an experiment at the end of the year where they moved their commercial breaks,” Werner said. “One network tried it one way, another tried it another way. I’d be for less commercial breaks because I think that increases the ratings. So in the end I think is a good idea.”

Let’s see if Werner, a Hollywood vet, helps bring about actual change.

Reducing the number of breaks in a baseball broadcast could drop the number of ads overall, and therefore speed up games. But commercials could also just be rearranged, so that just as many would air but in fewer segments.

The latter change would be touted as meaningful, but probably wouldn’t cut game time significantly. A PR move that doesn’t move the needle.

This discussion seems a starting point, at the least, in an arena where game play gets outsized focus.

You want these Fenway nights to go faster? There’s an elephant in the room, and it’s not intentional walks.

Advertising time, and a reluctance for the people selling it to part with advertising dollars, are obvious shackles. MLB regular season inning breaks last 2 minutes, 5 seconds for local games and 20 seconds longer for national games — and that doesn’t account for any other pauses leading to commercial.

On Thursday, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred talked about potential on-field ways to hasten play. (Manfred also exaggeratedly said “there’s nothing about baseball that needs to be fixed.”)

Manfred did not mention limiting the number of commercials, but he also wasn’t asked about it specifically.

The commissioner is following what the other commissioner is doing, though, based on Werner’s words.

“We always look at the changes that are made in football,” Werner said. “They seem to make changes every year. Nobody says, ‘Oh my God, the game’s terrible.’ The fact is, we are always looking to make the game more crisp. I think you all know, it’s a very minor change, but this year if a manager wants to call an intentional walk, we’re not going to have the pitcher throw four balls. That’s a very tiny change. It’s only going to save 15 seconds maybe, but it makes the game more crisp.

“We’re focused on how to shorten the amount of time for an instant replay. Nobody would call it instant right now. We have a directive now in New York to see if all calls can be in two minutes. We have a directive to see if the manager decides or not within 30 seconds. We’re trying to push the game to be under three hours.”

Any rule changes have to be approved by the players’ union. Reducing the number of pitchers used inside of an inning is being weighed.

“There are experiments going on. I’m for experiments,” Werner said, echoing Manfred’s stance. “There’s a lot of debate about how to deal with extra innings. .?.?. The group that is talking about it is going to be expanded to players and general managers. Hopefully we’ll make some improvements to make the game as crisp as can be.”

Crisp as can be means parting with money.