MLB: Is Baseball Too Slow?

Tom Lynn/Getty Images
Tom Lynn/Getty Images

As the MLB  continues to study ways to increase the pace of the game of baseball — ostensibly to make it more exciting for the fans who have made the journey out to see it in person — the floodgates are open, briefly, for every single “baseball is slow and boring and why would you ever watch it unless you had to” joke, statement, and screed. Okay. Gates opened, gates closed.

That baseball’s pace can charitably be described as languid is nothing new — to steal an old Dave Attell bit, it can feel like it was invented before fun — and neither, particularly, is the idea that it needs to be sped up. In fact, the league itself said as much all the way back in 2010. It’s possible, then, that the problem is that baseball feels slow, in an unquantifiable sense, compared to its direct competition: the other major North American sports. This could be because there is no game clock, or it could be because the average game is actually taking up more time than a different sport.

Rather famously, the average NFL game features only 11 minutes of actual live ball action, compared to 67 minutes of “players standing around,” at least according to The Wall Street Journal back in 2010. That any broadcaster can make a game, any game, with that much of a discrepancy between things that matter and things that don’t stay interesting for the entire broadcast time is a testament to how deftly the football television crews work, and if you’re not sure that’s true, then you’re not paying attention.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

But how long does the average game between leagues take, and which pro sport is really taking up the longest amount of your time? Looking at information from all the national sports leagues, here’s how it breaks down.

  • The average NFL game takes “3 hours, 10 minutes, and 34 seconds,” according to a Sports on Earth article from last December, using data from Pro Football Reference. This is actually down from an L.A. Times article from 2012, which cited three hours, 11 minutes, and 56 seconds.
  • For the NBA, the average regular season game took 137 minutes last year, while the playoffs took 160 — which divides out into two hours, 17 minutes and two hours, 40 minutes, respectively. We should point out that last year’s playoffs featured the most overtime games ever. Data via Deadspin.
  • When the NHL came to a new Collective Bargaining Agreement between the players and the owners, the league, through, said that they did not expect games to run longer than two hours and 19 minutes.
  • Last but not least, the average MLB game from the 2014 season, helpfully collected by Baseball Prospectus, is three hours, seven minutes, and 48 seconds long.

So, baseball’s not measurably longer than a football game, and both of those are considerably longer than either the average hockey or basketball game. But the committee isn’t concerned with the length so much as the pace, right? Is it possible that what the NFL has to offer over the MLB is more action? Not so, says The Wall Street Journal, which measured an MLB’s amount of action at 17 minutes and 58 seconds. That’s almost seven more minutes of action than The Journal assessed toward the NFL. This means, really, that baseball’s only in need of a pace adjustment because it has a reputation for being slow.