The MLB Pitch Clock - What it Means and The Impact It's Having (Updated)

As we approach the midway point in the 2023 season, let’s have a look at the impact of the new rules MLB implemented, including a 20-second pitch clock. This had been working its way through the Minor Leagues since 2015 so it was good timing to bring it up to the Show.

For the uninitiated, the pitch clock is a timer used to limit the time between pitches to 20 seconds. The pitch clock is intended to speed up the pace of play and reduce the length of games, which has been a concern for the league as well as fans and officials.

It’s fair to say that the pitch clock has made the game more exciting and engaging for fans, by improving the overall flow of the game. So far this year, games are about 30 minutes shorter than they were during the 2023 season.

There’s no denying that the pitch clock has improved the pace of play. Other rules changes like larger bases and eliminating the infield shift have also had an impact and have made the game more exciting as scoring is up almost a full run from last season: 9.1 up from 8.2.

In addition to the shorter games, the new rules have had an impact on attendance and television ratings. Attendance is up 8.3% over the same number of games in 2022, with ballparks drawing 36.2 million so far this season compared to 33.4 million at the same point last year. Ratings at TBS are up 63% and ESPN is up 11% (minus early Yankees-Red Sox games as comparison from last year).

In terms of sports betting, the debate is especially heated as states throughout the U.S. continue legalizing sports betting thus allowing more fans to bet on more games. In addition, the concept of micro-betting - betting on every play in a game - continues to gain momentum and will drive handle for sportsbooks.

As summarized by Mark Saxon in Sports Handle:

“In-game wagering is an opportunity baseball can’t afford to mess up. With multi-billion-dollar deals with regional sports networks drying up, owners are increasingly frantic to find growth opportunities that allow them to project healthy future revenue to other investors and potential investors. One company, UK-based Genius Sports, has projected that, by 2031, in-play betting will yield over 80% of the NFL betting handle. Presumably, that number could be higher for baseball.”

Which is only bolstered by Randy Levine’s comment:

“It’s quintessential fan engagement,” New York Yankees President Randy Levine said. “I think baseball lends itself really unlike any other sport to mobile sports betting. You can bet on what’s the next pitch: Is it a fastball? A curveball? How fast is it going to be? Is it going to be inside? Outside? Will the batter hit a single, a home run, or strike out? Will it go to right field? Left field? There are endless possibilities for somebody to be engaged.”

Mark Saxon wrote about this in Sports Handle back in March. Ryan Keur, the vice president for trading and revenue at Simplebet, Keur said last year “around 80% of pitch-by-pitch bets came within 10 seconds of the lines being set by the computer. Another 10% came in during the following five seconds. The remaining 10%, which would be null and void in this season, were placed after the 15-second mark.”

He went on to say “When you sit and think about it, 15 seconds to get a bet in, is pretty fast … It really requires this level of perfection and detail at every moment of what we call the market life cycle. Between creation, suspension, and then settlement, which is happening every 15 seconds across 2,500 baseball games across the entire course of the season, there’s a lot to get done in a short amount of time.”

Of course, the entire purpose of the Pitch Clock is to speed up the game and generate more excitement.  This also drives in-play handle for the entire industry as excitement builds and fans place more bets, faster.

According to Nielsen Fan Insights, just over ½ of all MLB fans are also bettors, with 74% of MLB fans indicating they would be interested in betting if it were legal in their jurisdiction.  

With all of the talk about a pitch clock and micro-betting one important element must also be addressed: video streaming technology. MLB and its sportsbook partners will not see the growth in revenue they expect if fans cannot Watch and Bet in real-time. 

Sportsbooks must leverage technology that eliminates video latency - the delay between something happening on the field of play and when it shows up on a user’s device - so the data they receive from data providers like Sportradar is in sync with the video they receive. This is where Phenix comes in. We’re able to deliver streams with less than ½ second of latency at broadcast quality and scale and synchronize video playback across all devices so everyone sees each pitch at the same time, every time and is also synchronized with the data. 

Can you imagine betting on the very next pitch using today's streaming technology? Not a chance. Phenix real-time streaming will make that a reality.

Source: 2023 Latency Study