Opening Day is the grandest day of Major League Baseball’s regular season and brings pomp, circumstance, and a sell-out for almost all home stadiums who glitz up their steel and concrete with ceremonial first pitches, flyovers, and the only kind of bunting that should be legal – the polyester kind.
To their credit, MLB finally ditched that night game before Opening Day (or their broadcast partner did), so we finally get all the teams playing on the same day once again.
Yet, in my opinion, Major League Baseball does itself no favors with how it schedules Opening Day. We don’t have to look any further than this year to see why.
Here are a few issues I have with Opening Day, and how I’d fix it.
Opening Day Home Team
With all due respect, Miami, Oakland, and Washington host Opening Day games this year while Atlanta, Philadelphia, New York (NL) and Cleveland all open on the road.
If you make the playoffs, one of the perks you should get is hosting Opening Day. What is the argument against this? That a 100-loss team might have a better chance of selling 5,000 more tickets if they host a 100-win team on Opening Day? Fiddlesticks!
Take that idea a half-step further and prioritize teams with the best record in the prior season being awarded home games on Opening Day.
Home openers are cool but playing at home on Opening Day is much, much cooler.
This seems so obvious. Change this now for 2024!
Opening Day on Weekdays
Opening Day is on a Thursday this year, with the start time for each game happening no later than 6PM local time. That means, outside of the 35,000-45,000 fans sitting in the stadium, Opening Day – the most anticipated game of the regular season – happens when the fanbase is at work or school.
What the heck?
I understand that there is an argument that teams draw on Opening Day and on weekend games early in the season, and those teams don’t want to lose that gate. Okay, fine, I get that might make a small difference, but with all the ancillary revenue streams in the game, I can’t imagine the difference is tangible over an 81-game home schedule.
The biggest problem here is multipronged.
First, for a sport that hasn’t doesn’t have the best track record of appealing to younger fans, you are taking away the chance for them to see their local team play because THEY ARE IN SCHOOL. Holy moly. MLB wipes out the opportunity for their most impressionable fans to watch Opening Day because of a 1PM local start time.
Second, adult fans who work a normal weekday schedule are at work. If ad revenue and demographics are important, why does MLB feel the need to reduce the eyes on their product by scheduling games at these times?
This year, for instance, the Braves play the Nationals at 1PM on a Thursday. I’d love to play hookie and skip work and watch Atlanta begin the 2023 season, but I can’t because I’ll be working – same as many of you.
Sure, some of you will stream it while at work or suddenly come down with a case of the ‘itous Thursday morning, but for the overwhelming majority, you’ll have to read a recap here on Battery Power to find out what happened.
If baseball is hellbent on keeping the game during the week, at least move the start time for the games to no earlier than 6PM local time, so the majority of the fanbase can watch or listen to the game most, if not all, of the game.
Opening Day Saturday
To resolve all of those issue, move Opening Day to Saturday with a game scheduled Sunday and then the open date on Monday, in the event of a weather cancellation.
Opening Day Saturday could be a spectacle unlike any other in sports. Live national broadcast teams at locations across the country, starting at 9AM Eastern. Local broadcasts could do the same. Games could start at 1PM Eastern with a first pitch staggered every 10 minutes, allowing the first pitch to be seen for every game across the country.
Taking that one step further, games could be staggered similar to how they are now – so from 1PM until 1AM there’s Opening Day baseball. Except now most of the overall baseball fanbase could actually watch the games, instead of being limited to a four- or five-hour window in the late afternoon and evening.
Furthermore, make Opening Day a weekend event. Stadiums could hold parties on the Friday night before the game, with player introductions, musical acts, etc., as a pep rally before Opening Day. The same could happened Saturday night, all in the name of
revenue generation the love of the game.
Broadcast blackouts need to go, and maybe they will be gone if the regional sports networks go belly-up and MLB can re-define how broadcasts look in the future. But until then, MLB should leverage their power to have Opening Day weekend be black-out free. Make it as easy as possible for anyone and everyone to watch any team, regardless of geographic location.
Opening Days Are Special
NASCAR’s Daytona 500 opens that sport’s season with the biggest race on their schedule first. Even casual fans tune in, with the lead-up to the race full of other races and events. NASCAR is not the model to follow with most things, but MLB could take some tips from them on how to maximize the beginning of their season.
We all look forward to Opening Day, but it seems like it could be even better than it is now, with a few minor tweaks by MLB.
Look, being in the stadium on Opening Day is one of the best spectator experiences in all of sports. I’ve been lucky enough to experience that a few times, but that isn’t an opportunity everyone gets. Maybe not this year and maybe never.
If you, or I, or your Momma’s friend’s cousins and that one Aunt that isn’t really an Aunt but everyone calls her Aunt anyway, want to sit down and watch Opening Day while talking about family gossip and that neighbor three doors down from that house with the weird from door - you know the one, the one with the that little yippy dog - they should be able to plan their Saturday around it months ahead of time.
You know, like a lot of people do every Saturday in the Fall? And youth baseball leagues have done for years?
Instead, again this year, most of ya’ll will be peaking at your phone, trying to catch an update on the game status, while you’re working or at school. I know I will.
Come on, MLB, do right by all of us and make these changes so that Opening Day can the best version of itself.