World Series games this October will start approximately 40 minutes earlier, a concerted response by FOX Sports and Major League Baseball to concerns about late broadcasts inconveniencing East Coast and young fans. First pitches will be scheduled for shortly before 8 p.m. ET, following the conclusion of pregame shows now scheduled to go on the air at 7:30. The last time a regularly scheduled weekday World Series game started before 8 was 38 years ago, when the Orioles faced the Pirates in Game 5 of the 1971 World Series.
MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, who recommended the change in starting times to FOX Sports, called it "a terrific announcement, something I have waited a long time for." "I really feel good about where we are," said Selig, who indicated the American League Championship Series games on FOX also will follow suit and start prior to 8 o'clock. "Our goal is to schedule games so the largest number of people can watch, and FOX has gone to an enormous amount of effort to make this happen. It's been a great joint effort between the two us." Seconding the sentiment, FOX Sports president Ed Goren said: "This is a very special relationship between FOX and the Commissioner and his staff. It's the gold standard. We've worked very well together through the years, and this is just another example of why we've been able to accomplish so much." According to Major League Baseball's records, the change will mark the first time a regularly scheduled weekday World Series game will start before 8 p.m. ET in over 30 years.
Of course, the advanced start time really is more about when World Series games end than it is about when they begin.In last fall's World Series, featuring the Philadelphia Phillies against the Tampa Bay Rays, the start of games ranged from 8:30 p.m. to 8:38 p.m. ET. With an average duration of three hours and 16 minutes, final outs consistently pushed midnight on the East Coast. "World Series games have been running longer," Goren said, "and we made the adjustments with the acknowledgement that young kids can only stay up until a certain hour. "In all fairness, I haven't seen that as an issue in other sports, but that aside, there is a potential benefit in this with regard to young fans -- as well as a possible ratings benefit with games not running till midnight." Selig also introduced a more dramatic, retro idea: weekend afternoon World Series games. The network ultimately deemed that impractical. "It certainly was considered," Goren said, "and the Commissioner has certainly expressed his interest in it. But it gets back to economics: What I do know, from our research people, is that if we played Saturday afternoon, viewership would be 30 percent lower. And there would be an economic impact to that." "It's not going to happen in 2009, but we'll certainly continue to talk about it," Selig said. "But, as I said, our goal is to have the largest number of people watching, and the truth is the potential audience is 30 percent greater in primetime at night. "This really is a reasonable hour. Young fans were one of the reasons we wanted to do it, but, again, our goal was to have the largest possible audience. This is a real change for us, in a very positive way -- something I have had very strong feelings about for a long time."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.