A Look Back on MLB ‘23: How Successful were New Rule Changes?
By: Dillon George
October 24, 2023
Photo Credit: Associated Press
As previewed in Eliana Detata’s article last winter, Major League Baseball took a big step before the 2023 season by implementing new rules such as a pitch clock, larger bases, banning defensive shifts, and scheduling changes. These were seen as necessary changes for a sport battling decreasing popularity in the US, and fighting for their share of the American sports market. So how well did they work out?
The short answer: incredibly. To throw a few numbers out there, the MLB had its highest year-over-year increase in average attendance in 30 years (9.2%), over half the leagues’ teams (17) accrued more than 2.5 million total attendees throughout the season, matching an all-time high, and 11 different weekends through the year featured 1.5 million total fans across the league. For reference, the last four non-Covid years had a total of just 5.
The reasoning for this, again, appears quite simple: games were more entertaining. The introduction of the pitch clock brought the average MLB game time down to just two hours 38 minutes, coming just two years after the all time high of three hours 10 minutes. Teams adjusted quickly to this too, as 60% of games didn’t feature a single pitch-clock violation. Not only were games shorter, but they featured more offense as league-wide batting average, double and triple percentages, and total runs all increased. This can be credited, at least partially, to banned defensive shifts and larger bases. The latter most notably affected stolen base attempts, which rose from 1.2 to 1.8 per game, accompanied by a 4% higher success rate.
These changes inherently brought more excitement to the ballpark each day. This was accompanied by a scheduling change which resulted in each team playing 46 intra-league games (NL vs AL) as opposed to the previous 20, which brought more star-studded action to the diamond as world series contenders got to battle during the regular season.
All of these changes most notably helped small market teams, especially those vying for playoff spots. Contenders in smaller markets such as the Reds (up more than 642,000 fans year over year), Guardians (522,000), Rays (312,000) and Marlins (255,000) played a massive role in driving up MLB’s total attendance. Even from home, many teams saw an increase in viewers on their local broadcasts, such as the Rangers (up 103%), Pirates (74%), Orioles (66%) and Reds (66%). MLB TV also recorded its most-streamed season in its 21-year history, and the number of games watched through all nine innings increased by 10.5%.
While these numbers were all correlated with success during the season (the New York Yankees and Mets, as well as San Diego Padres all posted disappointing records, which were reflected in their viewership), it still symbolizes a resounding success for commissioner Rob Manfred and the MLB. This is the start of a spark desperately needed to revive America’s favorite pastime, and it remains to be seen how numbers will continue to climb in 2024.