The Mets or Yankees have played on ESPN six of the past eight Sunday nights, with four of those games in New York, meaning a lot of late nights for those hardy souls willing to brave post-8 p.m. starts on school/work nights.
But at least they knew what they were getting into, because the early season “Sunday Night Baseball” schedule is set in December, so consenting adults can make educated decisions about balancing baseball and sleep.
The tricky part kicks in now, with most Sunday nights – except for three in mid-July with matchups already in place – subject to the standings, to market size, to team brands . . . in other words, to TV priorities.
Our mission here is not to debate the merits of flexible scheduling, which in every sport is a small net positive for the majority of fans who watch on TV and a huge net negative for the minority who attend in person.
The goal merely is to help you strategize for the rest of the season on how to play late-night roulette when purchasing tickets to a ballgame.
Let’s start with this: Not counting Opening Night, each team is allowed a maximum of six appearances on “Sunday Night Baseball.”
The Mets and Yankees have made three apiece, and the Yankees have another scheduled July 16 against the Red Sox, in Boston.
That leaves two Yankees and three Mets games subject to moving from among these Sundays: June 18 and 25, July 2, and every weekend after July 23. ESPN must make an announcement no later than two weeks in advance.
But wait: Not every Sunday game is subject to being flexed. Only certain games are designated as options in a given week – usually four – so if a game is not on that list, it’s afternoon-safe.
For the Mets, six of their games are on the eligible-for-prime time list, three at home:
— June 18 against the Nationals
— June 25 at the Giants
— Aug. 6 against the Dodgers
— Aug. 27 at the Nationals
— Sept. 17 at the Braves
— Sept. 24 against the Nationals
Hate getting home after midnight on a Sunday? May we suggest Aug. 20 against the Marlins or Sept. 10 against the Reds?
As for the Yankees, they have eight flexible games left, four at home:
— June 25 against the Rangers
— Aug. 13 and Sept. 3 against the Red Sox
— Sept. 17 against the Orioles
First rule of avoiding Sunday nights: No buying tickets to Yankees-Red Sox games! Helpful suggestion: Aug. 27 against the Mariners.
As long as teams are upfront about which games are subject to change, it is caveat emptor out there. This is the price we pay for living in an area with famous baseball brands that draw big TV audiences.
Same goes for football, usually. But as the Jets have demonstrated, it is possible to limit ticketholders’ exposure to annoying night games by looking so bad on paper that even the New York angle does not matter.
The Jets are scheduled for a grand total of one prime-time game in 2017, on a Thursday, barring an unexpected surge that lands them a late flex into “Sunday Night Football.”
The best possible circumstance for fans who hate night games is to root for a team from which little is expected that outperforms its television schedule.
The gold standard was the 1999 St. Louis Rams. In a pre-flex era, they were supposed to be awful and irrelevant, and were given 15 kickoffs at noon Central Time and one at 3:15 p.m., in San Francisco.
Then they went 13-3 under out-of-nowhere quarterback Kurt Warner. They played only one game all season after 3:30 p.m. CT: Super Bowl XXXIV, in which they beat the Titans, 23-16.
They opened the next season against the Broncos — on “Monday Night Football.”