Major League Baseball Has New Rules And Ways To Watch Games In 2023

Major League Baseball is poised to begin a new season. Unlike last season, which saw a delay to the start of spring training and regular season until a new Collective Bargaining Agreement was hammered out, all thirty clubs are in spring training camps across Florida (Grapefruit League) and Arizona (Cactus League) this season. The first spring training games are scheduled for February 24 with Opening Day slated for March 30. In between there will be the fifth World Baseball Classic, held between March 7-21. The tournament involves teams from 20 nations and will be available on Fox Sports and the Fox Sports App.

Besides the usual off-season trades and free agent signings, there will be a number of changes in upcoming season. These include the fallout of the recent default in a debt payment, by the Diamond Sports Group. The DSG is by far, the largest Regional Sports Network televising nearly half the MLB clubs. In addition, for nationally distributed games, this will be the second year of an eight-season media rights agreement between Fox Sports, Turner Sports and ESPN. It comes at a time when baseball fans migrate to streaming platforms to watch games.

New Rules: In recent year, MLB has been looking to speed up games. In 2014 the average length of a nine-inning game surpassed three hours for the first time. In 2021 the average length was a record 3:10, before dropping to 3:04 last season. By comparison, in 1981 the average nine-inning game was 2:33 long. Postseason games with more pitching changes are even longer. MLB in the past has limited visits to the pitching mound and added a rule that pitchers have to face a minimum of three batters before being replaced. Both were aimed to quicken games.

Last September, the MLB’s competition committee agreed to institute a number of new rule changes for the 2023 season and beyond. These changes had been in effect in minor league games in recent seasons with positive results.

One change involves a pitch clock. Under new rules, pitchers will be required to throw a pitch within 15 seconds, when there are no runners on base and within 20 seconds with runners. There will be pitch clocks positioned throughout each ballpark. If a pitcher fails to release the baseball in time, they will be charged a ball to the count. Similarly, hitters will be required to be in the batter’s box with eight seconds on the pitch clock. If a hitter fails to be in the batter’s box in time, they will be charged with a strike.

Another new rule designed to speed up the game involving pitchers will be limiting the number of pickoffs or stepping off the rubber to two per at bat. If a pitcher exceeds two, they will be charged with a balk. Collectively, these rules have resulted in shortening minor league games by an average of 25 minutes.

As baseball becomes more analytical in positioning players, MLB will now restrict defensive alignments. Under the new rule, before a baseball is pitched, all four infielders will have to be positioned in the dirt part of the infield, with two players on the left side of second base and two on the right side. Players will not be able to shift until once the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand. If the rule is violated with the result being the batter gets a hit and runners advance there is no penalty. If play results in an out or a sacrifice, the hitting team can let the play stand or accept the penalty which is one ball. The goal is to increase batting averages which was .243 in 2022, the lowest since the “Year of the Pitcher” in 1968 (.237).

Another change is the size of the three bases will increase from 15 inches to 18 inches. The goal is to reduce injuries.

MLB will introduce a new scheduling format. For the 2023 and beyond all 30 MLB teams will play at least one series against every other team. Hence, the 162-game regular season will have 52 divisional games (from 76), 64 intraleague games (from 66) and 46 interleague games (from 20). MLB will keep intact a four game (home and home) series against geographic rivals (I.e., Cubs-White Sox, Yankees-Mets, etc.). The goal is to create a more balanced schedule.

MLB Media: Once again, MLB games will be widely available to baseball fans across a number of video outlets. As in the past, Regional Sports Networks will televise a large majority (80%) of the 2,430 regular season in-market games. Despite the financial woes of the Diamond Sports Group, MLB has assured viewers all games will be available either on TV or streaming.

For 2023, there will be 11 RSNs carrying the games of the 30 MLB clubs.

Bally Sports: Arizona, Atlanta, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Kansas City, Los Angeles Angels, Miami, Minnesota, Milwaukee, St. Louis, San Diego, Tampa Bay, Texas

NBC Regional Sports Nets: Chicago White Sox, Oakland, Philadelphia, San Francisco

AT&T SportsNet: Colorado, Houston, Pittsburgh, Seattle

Mid-Atlantic SportsNet: Baltimore, Washington

Marquee SportsNet: Chicago Cubs

New England SportsNet: Boston Red Sox

Spectrum SportsNet: Los Angeles Dodgers

SportsNet: Toronto Blue Jays

SportsNet New York: New York Mets

YES Network: New York Yankees

According to the Athletic, the average local market household (HH) ratings for live baseball games across all RSNs in 2022 was 2.5, the lowest in recent years. The average number of households tuning in was 60,600.

With Aaron Judge setting an American League record with 62 home runs, the YES Network, over 126 games last season, averaged 368,000 households in the New York market. The highest rated RSN of 2022 and YES Network’s highest rated season since 2011.

Overall, RSN local market household ratings and impressions:

2022: 60,600 HH; 2.5 HH rating

2021: 60,100 HH, 2.9 HH rating

2020: 61,600 HH, 3.0 HH rating

2019: 72,900 HH, 3.4 HH rating

Source: The Athletic from Nielsen

RSN’s are typically available by subscribing to a cable operator or satellite TV provider. With cord cutting and, at times, contentious carriage fee negotiations temporarily blacking out games, a growing number of MLB contests can now be streamed via fuboTV, DirecTV Stream, YouTube TV, Sling TV and Hulu + Live TV. Most streamed MLB games can now be found on Roku, Chromecast, Fire TV, Android TV, iOS and Apple TV.

Also, last year New England Sports Net (NESN) became the first RSN to offer viewers to directly stream Boston Red Sox games avoiding cable/satellite TV entirely. In addition, despite being in a financially precarious situation, Diamond Sports, last year, acquired the streaming rights to five MLB clubs; Kansas City Royals, Tampa Bay Rays, Milwaukee Brewers, Miami Marlins, and Detroit Tigers.

Besides RSNs, another viewing source is cable and broadcast networks which televises games nationally including all postseason games.

Fox Sports (Fox and FS1): Televises 52 regular season games, the All-Star game (on July 11 from Seattle), two Division Series, one League Championship Series and the World Series. (All World Series games and All-Star Game will be on Fox Broadcasting) In 2022 the Fox broadcast network averaged 2.1 million viewers for the regular season.

TBS: The Warner Bros. Discovery owned TBS will televise weeknight games throughout the season. For the postseason, TBS will televise two Division Series and a League Championship Series. During the 2022 regular season TBS had averaged 365,000 viewers on Tuesday night.

ESPN: During the regular season, the Disney owned ESPN televises Sunday Night Baseball. For the postseason, ESPN (and ABC/ESPN2) televises the four Wild Card Series. Sunday Night Baseball averaged 1.5 million viewers in 2022.

MLB Network: The MLB Network also televises live games throughout the regular season along with a few early round postseason games. The MLB Network FS1, ESPN, TBS are also available on most vMVPDs.

MLB.TV: For twenty years the subscription based MLB.TV has been streaming live out-of-market games. Last season a record 11.5+ billion minutes were streamed. The five most streamed games all occurred in 2022, led by a Yankees-Red Sox game on Opening Day. For 2023, a full season of MLB.TV coverage costs $150, a single team plan or an individual month plan are at a lower rate.

Similar to every other sport, the postseason delivers greater interest and higher ratings. For the 2022 postseason, the nine Wild Card Series games on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC delivered an average audience of 2.8 million viewers. The four Division Series on Fox/FS1 and TBS averaged nearly 3.5 million viewers. The American League Championship Series (Houston -New York Yankees) on TBS averaged 5.2 million viewers. The National League Championship Series (Philadelphia-San Diego) on Fox/FS1 averaged 4.6 million viewers.

The 2022 World Series (Houston-Philadelphia) on Fox, Fox Deportes and Fox Sports streaming apps averaged 12.0 million total viewers, while higher than any primetime entertainment program of the season, it was also the second least watched Fall Classic of all-time.

Play ball!