Have you ever opened the sports app on your phone to see what time the game you want to watch starts and noticed all the crazy start times you see on the Major League Baseball (MLB) scoreboard – 1:05, 3:07, or 7:09, for instance? And then the first thought that pops into your head is – why do baseball games start at odd times?
There are two main reasons: television network broadcasts and time-honored pregame rituals. This article will provide all the details related to those reasons that help explain baseball game start times. So, let’s play ball!
Television Network Broadcasts
If you are a sports fan at any level, you know how much power television networks wield in the sports world. From youth sports to professional sports, you can watch any level of sports on TV.
Major League Baseball is no exception. Money is a big part of the game as player contracts continue to grow. However, that money has to come from somewhere to honor those contracts.
Enter television networks.
The details of any broadcasting contract will be unique for each MLB team. However, there are two main ways a television network broadcast impacts the actual start time of a baseball game, which usually begins around 5-10 minutes after the broadcast starts.
During that time, from when the camera starts rolling until the first pitch, it is a great time to talk about the game itself, the teams playing, and specific players on that team.
This window of time usually sees the highest viewership of a game, so it’s a perfect time to set the table on what the fans can expect to see.
Another way to take advantage of all those eyeballs tuned into the broadcast before the game gets underway is to squeeze in commercials.
At this point, nothing has happened to cause people to change the channel. That may not be the case later in the game if there is a blowout. Or maybe a snoozer where nothing is happening. In those cases, people may change the channel.
TV networks are opportunistic if nothing else.
Time-Honored Pregame Rituals
Now, not all MLB games get to appear on television, so network broadcasts aren’t the only reason that baseball games start at odd times.
Nevertheless, baseball is one of the most tradition-oriented sports in the United States, and many time-honored pregame rituals have developed over the years.
One of the most celebrated traditions in all sports, including baseball, is playing the national anthem before the start of the game.
According to MLB.com, playing the national anthem during games evolved over many years. The first documented report of the national anthem played during a game occurred in the 1918 World Series. This started a sporadic trend of the national anthem being performed during games. But it wasn’t until World War II that it began to be played regularly before games.
For MLB games, the national anthems of the United States and Canada are played before any game in Canada (Toronto Blue Jays).
Ceremonial First Pitch Thrown
The ceremonial first pitch is an opportunity for the home team to recognize or honor someone for several reasons. It could be someone from the local community, a former player or someone affiliated with the team, or someone who has made some kind of contribution the team would like to acknowledge.
Fan/Player/Community Member/Service Member Recognition
In addition to the first pitch, pregame allows the team to recognize someone for similar reasons as above but differently. This usually involves an announcement to the stadium crowd that may include specific accomplishments or gratitude and is an opportunity for that individual to be recognized by the entire stadium.
Since 9/11, this celebration has evolved toward recognizing armed forces service members and acknowledging their important duties on behalf of our country.
Starting Lineup Introductions
You can’t watch a game if you don’t know who is playing, right? So, during pregame rituals, each team’s starting lineups and managers are introduced.
Player Pregame Routines
The final pregame impact is the player warmups. This can start hours before game time with stretching, throwing, batting, and fielding practice. Every player has their own routine they feel they need to go through to maximize performance while minimizing injuries.
Once it gets closer to game time, this involves fielding practice for the home team while waiting for those all-important words – Play Ball!
Don’t Forget The Working Fan
Although not explicitly related to television contracts or pregame rituals, we shouldn’t forget about people who work and are trying to make it either home or to the ballpark before the first pitch.
Unlike college and pro football, which plays primarily on the weekends, the MLB’s game schedule is played during the week—so having a delayed start time gives those working fans a little extra time to get settled in if they plan on getting home at the top or bottom of the hour.
Do Other U.S. Sports Start At Odd Times?
Yes, they do, although not as much as baseball. The reality is that any sport broadcast on television will have various start times for the reasons outlined above.
Out of the major U.S. sports (football, basketball, and baseball), football (NFL and College) kicks off closest to its expected starting time. NBA basketball is a close second, but College basketball, particularly during the NCAA tournament, is more inconsistent.
The Walk Off
I hope those goofy start times make more sense now.
Remember, it’s all because of television contracts and pregame activities steeped in tradition. And opportunities to potentially recognize essential people in the community, former team members or club personnel, and members of the armed services.
So the next time someone asks – why do baseball games start at odd times, you can help them understand!
If you enjoyed this article, check out this one on the length of a baseball game and other exciting baseball facts.