Baseball Following the NFL’s Lead on Instant Replay

MLB Umps
Major League Baseball used instant replay for the first time Monday.

It took much longer than I had anticipated but Major League Baseball finally has instant replay. You’ll still be able to scream and holler about balls and strikes because those are not reviewable, but just about everything else is. Why it took as long as it did for baseball to jump on the replay bandwagon is a long story but what finally pushed MLB owners to adopt had nothing to do with getting calls right.

Major League Baseball realized that the National Football League had a pretty good thing going with this replay stuff. The NFL will tell you it’s about getting the calls right above all else and for the most part we really should believe them but I don’t.

Bud Selig and the owners in MLB more than likely got a hold of the income the NFL makes when a game goes to replay. You’ve wondered why replay challenges suddenly take so long in the NFL these days. The answer happens to be what goes on between the time you find out about a challenge and when you get the verdict.

This is called “advertising” and more specifically, these are commercials.

The NFL figured out that more replay challenges meant more advertising dollars and MLB has followed suit.

The NFL figured out years ago that they could cram in as many as three or four extra thirty-second spots per challenge which means that much more in terms of advertising dollars. Who benefits from that? The companies that are advertising and…. Wait for it….. The NFL!

Let’s say that a thirty-second commercial during a 4pmET NFL game costs about $400,000. I’ll use that number because I know Thanksgiving night games get close to a million per thirty-second spot and that’s primetime. If there are three challenges during the course of this 4pm game then means an average of about three ads per challenge.

If my math is correct, that works out to about $3.6 million the league is collecting during a game. Again, these are crude numbers but you get the idea of why instant replay has become so important to the NFL.

Let’s get back to baseball and instant replay… This past Monday saw the first ever use of the new instant replay system in Major League Baseball. This was a Grapefruit League game between the Minnesota Twins and the Toronto Blue Jays.

Blue Jays’ Manager John Gibbons challenged two bang-bang plays at first base. He later said that he thought both situations would be a good time to put the new system to use and why not? I was less interested in the outcome of the challenge, both verified the umpire’s ruling by the way, and more interested in how long the respective challenges took.

In the first case, the time was two minutes and 24 seconds while in the second instance the challenge lasted two minutes and three seconds. All things considered, those times really aren’t too bad but they were pretty straight-forward calls. The bigger issue is what Major League Baseball can do with those two minutes plus.

At the absolute worst, MLB could air two thirty-second ads and still have time on the front and back end of the commercial spots to analyze the play. Because MLB has far more games than does the NFL, their spots won’t cost nearly as much but that won’t matter when they are getting several extra ad spots per game through challenges.

Not every game will have a challenge but I’m betting that far more will have them than won’t. Of course this whole mess could be solved if they just got rid of instant replay as I’ve suggested in this spot before but we know that isn’t happening. Getting it right may be a reason but don’t be fooled, money is the true reason.