When the NBA was only a few years old, professional basketball had become a stalling game. Take a lead and hold on. The only thing the losing team could do was foul, and games became hacking free throw-shooting contests.
Believing the offense needed a boost to speed up the game, Syracuse Nationals owner Danny Biasone pitched a novel idea: a 24-second shot clock.
The rule changed the game immediately. In 1954-55, NBA teams averaged 93.1 points, 13.6 points more than the previous season.
“Pro basketball would not have survived without a clock,” Biasone said years later.
Legendary Celtics coach Red Auerbach called the shot clock “the single most important rule change in the last 50 years.”
Since then, most major sports have instituted rule changes to increase offense or kick up the pace of play — in other words, to make them less boring and move faster.
That effort has taken hold in today’s age of multi-tasking, 8-second attention span, multi-screen lifestyles.
Ratings for major sports have fallen, at least partly because fans are watching fewer and shorter sessions, according to industry research. With a multitude of choices available on various platforms, fans — especially millennials — are tuning in less often and stop watching faster.
The U.S. Open tennis tournament, the only one of the sport’s four annual Grand Slam events, along with Wimbledon and the Australian and French opens, used a serve clock for the first time this year.
“We are concerned about the pace of play, as all sports are,” said Chris Widmaier of the U.S. Tennis Association, which owns and operates the U.S. Open.
The NFL has had a play clock for years, although the league is looking at the timing of its commercial breaks after touchdowns and before kickoffs to keep viewers engaged.
Women’s professional golf sets a shot clock at 30 seconds. The PGA typically sets a 40-second clock.
Last year, for the first time in 22 years, the PGA Tour handed out its first pace of play penalty during the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.
Even baseball, the most stubbornly traditional game, has bent to societal desire to cater to those who find a leisurely three-hour contest too taxing.
Limited mound visits and shortened time between innings is shaving minutes off the length of a game.
In July, the United Shore Professional Baseball League in Michigan, a small instructional league, announced a time limit – no inning will begin after the 2-hour, 30-minute mark.
The drive to speed up pro baseball, the only major sport without a time clock, has trickled down to Sonoma County college, high school and Little League fields, and even city rec leagues, who, while not on an official clock, are at least mindful of being efficient with time.
“We want that instant gratification because we’re training ourselves to get anything we want anytime, any piece of information anytime,” said longtime Santa Rosa high school baseball coach Derek DeBenedetti.
Whether that is a good thing remains debatable, but it’s today’s reality, in life and in sports.
Sports executives faced with declining ratings and an aging audience are rethinking how to market their games to younger viewers who want quick information in short, flashy bites, suitable for a social media like, retweet or share.