Tigers have no plans to alter starting times

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

School kids and bedtimes. Ballparks and three-hour games.

The combination doesn’t always work to the advantage of fans, or baseball box offices, which in some big-league towns have begun experimenting with earlier starting times.

Tuesday night’s Tigers-Indians game at Progressive Field in Cleveland began at 6:10 p.m., while game times for last month’s Royals-Tigers series at Kauffman Stadium started at 6:05 p.m. Central time.

There is no plan to tinker with first-pitch schedules at Comerica Park, even if the Tigers long have known school nights chop into spring attendance that could, conceivably, be boosted by earlier starts.

Barriers are two-fold.

Most of the Tigers’ customer base is a commuter crowd that generally needs time to make it from workplaces to downtown, or from its homes following a workday. Travel time for the average patron makes a 6:10 start prohibitive if that person is bent on catching the first pitch.

The Tigers also benefit from a traditionally heavy local television audience, which last year slipped 21 percent but still finished as the fourth-largest local TV audience in the big leagues.

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Commutes and dinner schedules generally allow viewers to be settled in for a 7:10 p.m. start. Move that TV slot to 6:10 and too much of a game, the Tigers and their analysts reason, would be missed as fans joust with expressways and at least attempt to share an evening meal with family.

“In setting game times we’re sensitive to the fans and to their schedule,” said Ron Colangelo, vice president of communications for the Tigers. “We work to strike a balance in arranging times that are a good mix of day and night games, whether it’s 1:10 or 7:10 — separate from national TV mandates.

“In April, earlier start times, because of weather, are an objective. We had the second-most day games to the Cubs.”

Early-season weather typically has been a drain on Tigers ticket sales. Last month was no different, as temperatures in the 30s and 40s, rain — and even snow — made for a rugged first three weeks. The team also had a bad weekend against the Indians, losing a three-game series, which took a toll on Saturday-Sunday sales and affected a follow-up four-game set against the A’s.

Different weather and demographics have spurred the Royals and Indians to give the 6 p.m.-hour a shot, at dates and times specific to their cultures.

The Royals moved to 6:05 p.m. weeknight games in April but this month are gradually returning to a 7:15 p.m. first pitch that will become standard until September, when they move to 6:15 p.m. school-night starts

The Indians will move in June, after school has recessed, to 7:10 p.m. starts that will be a weeknight norm for the remainder of 2016.

Weather was not the only influence on lower Tigers ticket sales in April.

Season-tickets are down from last year’s 19,000-plus, with the decrease tied to Detroit’s last-place finish.

Tigers officials will not say specifically how many fewer season packages have been sold when sales are ongoing and subject to bounce-backs, particularly if the team maintains its ways of late. The Tigers entered Tuesday with a five-game winning streak and had won six of their last seven.

Team officials, however, said packages already sold have placed 2016 season sales in the top 10 of ticket purchases dating to 1901, the Tigers’ first year as a big-league franchise.

A heavy gate is expected this weekend as temperatures are forecasted in the 60s and 70s ahead of a three-game weekend series against the Rangers at Comerica Park.

The team then leaves for a six-game road series at Washington and Baltimore before returning for a nine-game home stand against Minnesota, Tampa Bay and Philadelphia.