The NFL has talked about lengthening its current season beyond 16 regular season games, and have even considered adding additional playoff teams. Major League Baseball plays 162 games, and many fans (including even die hard baseball fans) think the season goes on too long (the World Series now stretches into November!). While it appears as though professional and college sports decision-makers find it more advantageous to lengthen sports seasons, it might actually make more sense to shorten seasons for a variety of reasons, including:
- Longer seasons, more injuries. Without a doubt the more athletes play, the greater the chance for injuries — including serious head injuries. Fans pay big bucks to see games, and nothing is more frustrating to a fan than to arrive at the game only to find out his favorite player is out of the lineup due to injury. While sport science has taught us a lot about injury prevention and recovery, the likely reason for most chronic injuries today have to do with how long and intense sport seasons are – even at the youth sport level.
- Enter “scarcity” to drive revenue. In psychology it is fairly well accepted that when people view things as being scarce, they often over-value the product in many cases. For example, while most baseball minds would defend having a 162 game regular season for the needed revenue, we must wonder if a season half that length would allow for higher ticket prices with fewer games for fans to see? With the recent NCAA basketball tournament ending, we were able to clearly see how important single-game playoffs are, pointing directly to the value of scarcity.
- Athlete burnout. Along with increased risk for injury, risk for athlete burnout also spikes as athletes play more games. Interestingly, this is not a problem unique to college and pro sports as youth sport leagues (especially travel leagues) are routinely impacted by kids becoming burned out from playing so much. Athlete burnout is one of the biggest factors why athletes lose their mental toughness, and consequently their ability to reach their full athletic potential.
- Fewer games makes every game count. When sports seasons drag on many of the games begin to be perceived as meaningless (i.e. a baseball game in May). By shortening seasons every game appears to count more, which from a fan standpoint makes the games that much more interesting and desirable to attend.
“More” isn’t always better in life, and in the case of sports less might actually make more sense on a number of levels. Unfortunately, greed often rules the day and why most sports these days look to lengthen, not shorten, their seasons. The thinking is money would be left on the table if seasons were shortened — which could be the case — but the bigger gain has to do with fewer injuries, less burnout, and greater importance of games.