When Is The Best Time For Baseball Playoff Game?

The Philadelphia Phillies face off against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday in baseball's National League series. The game, which is being played in Los Angeles, is scheduled to start at 8:07 p.m. EDT. In the past, Major League Baseball has been criticized for scheduling games that start too late for East Coast viewers. John Ourand of the Sports Business Journal says Major League Baseball uses television ratings numbers to determine when to schedule games.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And all that talk about what's the right time, the best time for various things got me thinking: When is the best time for a baseball playoff game?

The league championship series got underway this evening in Los Angeles with the Philadelphia Phillies facing off against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League championship series. The game was set to start at 8:07 p.m. Eastern Time. That was be 5:07 in Los Angeles.

In the past, Major League Baseball has been criticized for scheduling games that start too late for East Coast viewers, too late for kids to watch and, frankly, too late for a lot of baby boomers to stay up for. And to help explain the league's scheduling decisions, we called on media reporter John Ourand of the Sports Business Journal, who is on the line from his office in northern Virginia. Welcome to the program.

Mr. JOHN OURAND (Media Reporter, Sports Business Journal): Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: And how does Major League Baseball set the schedule for playoff games -what time the games should begin?

Mr. OURAND: Well, baseball doesn't have an exact science about when to start the game, but they do have a little bit of a science. They have the ratings numbers that they get from Nielsen Media Research. And people on the East Coast would be really surprised to hear that the best times to start a game, actually, are right around 8:30, between 8:30 and nine o'clock.

SIEGEL: Part of the information here is that whereas there are two teams from Los Angeles in the playoffs, one in each league, more than two-thirds of the American people live in the Eastern and Central time zones combined. So that's where the people are.

Mr. OURAND: Yeah, it's almost counterintuitive, actually. I'm looking at numbers that are a little bit dated. They're from the 2007 division series. If you take a look at the ratings, the later the games go, the higher, the more number of eyeballs they reach. In fact, the only demographic groups that show a drop-off, the later they go, are older viewers who are over 55 years old and younger viewers who are between 6 and 11.

SIEGEL: I mean, it's what kids and boomers have in common, which is that those eyeballs get very bleary sometime around 11 o'clock at night.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OURAND: Exactly. I mean, I have a 10-year-old son who hasn't been able to watch one pitch of one World Series game yet. It's something that, living on the East Coast, I would love for a game to start earlier, but the networks and baseball, they need to reach as many people as they possibly can with their broadcast because the Fox Network spends a ton of money on the World Series. So it wants to make sure that it sells the highest rate for advertisers.

SIEGEL: But don't these professional sports leagues, it's not just Major League Baseball, don't they run the risk of not connecting with 10-year-olds all over the country if they can never get to see the big games or certainly never the ends of the big games?

Mr. OURAND: Well, use my son as an example. He's 10 years old. He's never seen one pitch in the World Series, but he loves going to baseball games. If you go to a Sunday afternoon baseball game during the World Series, you'd see a ton of kids running around that might not necessarily show up in the ratings, and they might not be watching at 11:30 when the game ends, but I don't think that there's really any evidence showing that the sport is skewing older as the start times get later.

SIEGEL: There is, actually, one game scheduled for one o'clock in the afternoon in the league championship playoff series.

Mr. OURAND: Yeah, which is unique. Fox has a championship series game that starts at four o'clock on the East Coast and one o'clock locally in Anaheim, which is where people are going. So me and my son on the East Coast, we're ecstatic about it. We're going to be able to watch the entire game. I would imagine that people on the West Coast aren't too happy about that, though.

SIEGEL: Or your son, if you lived in Los Angeles, would be in school at that time.

Mr. OURAND: Exactly. So he'd come home to see the last couple of innings, I suppose. It is one of those things where the networks are almost in a no-win situation. No matter when they schedule it for, given the time differences, they're certain to get a - just really get a bad time for it.

SIEGEL: Well, John Ourand, media reporter for the Sports Business Journal, thanks a lot for taking the time to talk with us.

Mr. OURAND: Thank you very much, Robert.

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