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mlb logoI don’t want to make this into a cliche “is baseball dying?” type thing, because I tend to that drama is bit overblown. But I have thought for some time that baseball needs to do much more to grow its fan base, particularly among younger fans who consume entertainment in very different ways than the youth did 30 or 20 or even 10 years ago.

Baseball is, by its very nature, slow. It is methodical. It is protracted. It is frequently passive. And, to a 12-year-old with dozens of other entertainment options – most of them available in short, satisfying bursts – baseball is boring. That is something we all have to be reasonable about, otherwise those dramatic “is baseball dying” things could become a reality over time.

Tom Verducci this week wrote a State of the Union piece on baseball, which focuses on a sport flush with cash, but saddled with a lack of “events” that demand a wide audience’s attention. It’s a ranging piece worth a read, but an aspect I’d like to focus on, as it relates to my preamble above, is this:

[W]hat concerns baseball is that it has lost ground to basketball and with young viewers. In 1986, the World Series did twice the rating of the NBA Finals (28.6-14.1). Last year the NBA Finals out-rated the World Series for the fourth time in the past five years (10.5-8.9).

The aging of the baseball audience is obvious. The median viewer age for the World Series clincher was 53; for the NBA Finals clincher it was 40. According to Sports Media Watch, among 18-34 viewers, more women watched Game 6 of the NBA Finals than men watched Game 6 of the World Series. The NBA Finals, which benefits from King Football being dormant in June, attracted more than twice as many 34-and-under viewers (10.83 million) as did the World Series (4.68 million).

Setting aside the specific comparison to basketball, that median age thing is striking. As Verducci lays out in other sections, the average baseball fan is getting older – and the problem, in his views, isn’t just the pace of games or the length of the season. It’s the nature of the sport. The pastoral, “play the game the right way” attitude that hews closely to the sport doesn’t exactly resonate with today’s youth. Worse, young stars in baseball – Bryce Harper, Yasiel Puig, and Jose Fernandez, for example – are trained to “tone things down” when they start to have too much fun or show too much excitement. If you want to engage young fans in a sport that already presents hurdles, that’s not the way to do it.

Consider that, in the NFL and NBA, the “stars” are exceptionally visible to a wide audience, not just their regional fans. Everyone knows LeBron and Peyton. Not everyone knows Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera. Once again, baseball suffer by its very nature (there is no “quarterback,” and the team isn’t comprised of just five starters), but the lack of true national stars has to be a concern.

Verducci segues his piece into possible rule changes to add excitement to the game, much in the way the NFL constantly tweaks its rules. Feel free to get into those in the comments if you’d like (the pitch clock sounds great to me, as does the “Summer Game” idea), but I’m at least as interested in the idea that MLB has done a poor job marketing its young starts to a wide audience. The game is getting younger and younger, which presents MLB an opportunity to highlight that youth in a way that connects with newer and younger fans – especially in an era where every young player is involved in social media because, hell, they’ve actually grown up in this era and that’s just what they do.

I don’t have an answer, and I know MLB is trying (they’ve recently partnered with MTV (do kids still like MTV?), and their social media efforts aren’t terrible). I just know that, long-term, MLB has to do a better job of capturing a younger fans, and absorbing them into the fold for the long term.

It’s funny to think about the Chicago Cubs’ role in all of this. In the post home-run-chase era, you know when baseball was most popular? When the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004. That’s a story with national appeal. If and when the Cubs manage to do the same – particularly if they do it with a core of young, marketable stars – there could be a tremendous opportunity for MLB (and, incidentally, the Cubs) to expand its young base.

  • Don Eaddy

    This always seems to be more of a preconceived problem than a problem in reality. Is baseball the #1 sport in America today? No. However, in terms of worldwide fan base I would have to believe Baseball is much higher than both football and basketball. Football (American) is mainly an American game, so it most definitely falls short of basketball and baseball when taken worldwide. I know that basketball has some markets in Europe and Asia, although I’m just not sure how passionate fans in those markets are toward the game compared to other sports in those regions. Meanwhile baseball is big in America, Japan, and is the absolute king in Cuba and the Dominican Republic, as well as many other Latin American countries where Baseball is played with great passion. I think the whole “Baseball is dying” thing is just a combination of Americans thinking that the U.S.A. is the center of the universe and NFL and NBA fans attempting to put the MLB in a bad light. Baseball is an international game and the MLB is a game played by international players, while Football and Basketball are American games played mostly by Americans.

    Another thought. Baseball is very similar to Cricket. One could conceivably believe that Cricket is an example of a game like Baseball surviving and thriving in another country. You could almost go as far as including Cricket with Baseball when ranking which sports have the largest fan bases worldwide.

    Regardless of whether you like that last idea or not, I think it is safe to say that Baseball is not going anywhere.

    • Robbo

      To say baseball is an international game and basketball is not is a big stretch. The NBA has players from 40 different countries currently in the league. MLB has players from 20 countries even tho rosters are twice the size.

      If baseball is such an international sport how come it was voted out of the Olympic games? The IOC decided there wasn’t enough internaitional interest and the sport is basically considered a sport of the Americas.

      I love baseball and basketball, but basketball seems to be trendig up internationally while baseball appears to be losing interest.

      • Brocktoon

        Synchronized Swimming is an olympic sport too. It doesn’t make it more popular internationally.

        Baseball was voted out because the IOC is largely run by European countries that don’t care about the game. Additionally, MLB refuses to send pros (nor should they), so the game doesn’t have the top stars. IOC basically said send your pros or else, MLB’s response was to create the WBC.

        • ClevelandCubsFan

          I don’t think that is quite right. The WBC isn’t in lieu of the Olympics. I think that is one of the things that the Olympic Committee wanted to see was international competition.

          • Brocktoon

            The WBC was founded in 2005 after the IOC announced the Olympics would discontinue baseball after the ’08 Olympics.

      • Don Eaddy

        That is true; however, I don’t think basketball comes anywhere near the passion for baseball in Latin America. Baseball is life down there. I think it is ironic that they play with much more energy and less “respect” and “tradition”, but seem to have much more passion for the game. Whether basketball is trending upwards or not, baseball is not trending downwards worldwide, only in the U.S.A.

        I think long term the worst case scenario for MLB would be a situation where they begin to have an NHL-like fan base. Much smaller than the NFL or NBA, but overall more passionate, intelligent, and loyal.

        • Don Eaddy

          When I said “I don’t think basketball comes anywhere near the passion for baseball in Latin America” I meant basketball internationally, not basketball in Latin America

    • ClevelandCubsFan

      Big difference between baseball dying and MLB dying.

  • Don Eaddy

    I would also like to add that I think it would be a shame and a huge mistake if MLB made drastic changes to its great sport just to boost ratings. I love MLB because it is a game that doesn’t seem to “sell-out” for ratings, like the NFL and NBA have done. I can’t stand watching records fall yearly in the NFL. Peyton Manning threw 55 TD’s this season….55. Try and tell me that he would have been able to do that before all of the rule changes that made NFL into flag football. Go ahead.

  • cavemancubbie

    The comment about ‘stars’ being visible to a wide audience struck a chord. Is it because MLB has expanded too much with 30 teams, or there isn’t enough inter-league play? Would having Trout or Price play in Wrigley every other year help? Just ruminating (brain farting).

  • http://www.worldseriesdreaming.com dabynsky
    • DarthHater

      YEAH!

      • GoCubsGo

        BLERNSBALL!!!! Screw BASKEtball.

  • jammin502

    I think the biggest drawback of MLB is greed. The money is continually in our face. All we hear about is how this guy or that guy won’t sign for less than $200 million. The average fan and person can not relate to these people. Should we? Should we put them on a higher pedestal? How much is enough? And when you get to enough, how much will the average fan have to pay to watch a game? Buy a hotdog and a beer? Pay to park? Buy a hat? Get an MLB subscription? I get disgusted when I see players having charity events to raise money. I think, “whoopie de doo”, you raised $50,000 … what is that like 5 minutes of your time? Why couldn’t you just give some of your millions? And I am sure that many of them do give to charities, whether out of caring or for tax benefits.

    We also see more and more effort and money from MLB to find talent in Asia, Cuba, the DR, etc. There are some great players coming from these places, but “their people” are mostly not in the USA to watch them play.

    If I was in control of baseball and sadly the player’s union I would say okay do you really need $25 million per year? How about $6 million per year and then we can lower prices for the fans and invest in research to enhance the fan experience. Give back to the communities. Stop feeding the machine of making these players spoiled brats, and return them back to the yester age when the guys spent a lot of time with fans signing autographs and posing for pictures.

    • Edwin

      Is the NFL any less greedy, though? Do people like the NFL better because they relate to the NFL better?

      This also ignores the fact that these sports are generating more money than ever before. If it’s not going to players, it’s going to the owners. By asking Player’s to artificially “Cap” their salaries, you’re basically giving all that money back to the Owners.

      • YourResidentJag

        Well, the contracts aren’t guaranteed.

        • Edwin

          If Baseball contracts weren’t guaranteed, the AAV would be even higher, to balance out the risk.

          • YourResidentJag

            A bold assertion with nothing to back up your statement. Also, with guaranteed contracts you’re stuck with a player (especially offensively) well into his years of non-production. With not guaranteed contracts, you can cut that same player if you deem him unproductive.

            • Brocktoon

              And where does the money not paid to that player go? Or are we in jammin’s fantasy world of Ty Cobb signing autographs for the youngsters and owners dropping tickets to 5 dollars even though people will pay 80 for them.

      • jammin502

        Actually I mentioned that lowering the players’ salaries would allow the owners to lower ticket prices, concession pricing, etc in order to allow Dad to bring his kids to a game. My wife and I make pretty good money, but I know that there are a lot of people out there out of work and/or struggling in this economy and there is no way that they are going to be taking the family to a game and shelling out $200. This year is the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field, how about a promotion for a game at 1914 prices? I bet the place would be packed solid! I am just saying that there is so much money in baseball that the players and owners could give a little back to the fans that support them.

        • Voice of Reason

          jammin:

          Are you personally willing to take a pay cut so that the company you work for can charge it’s customers less?

    • Brocktoon

      Well this post was incredibly silly.

  • Diehardthefirst

    Change the ball color to bright orange so easier to see –2 strikes and ur out and foul ball is automatic strike out- 2 balls for a walk- no pitches needed for intentional walk- no visits to mound cause pitcher must finish inning- no extra innings and ties count as half a win- season shortened to May 1 – Sept 15 including final game of WS- DH to NL-

  • Diehardthefirst

    Summary of changes 100 yrs
    http://www.baseball-almanac.com/rulechng.shtml
    Since those years, some major changes and rule additions have taken place and Baseball Almanac has …

  • Diehardthefirst

    Putting a pack of baseball cards in each cereal box could help get kids interested

    • http://www.michigangoat.blogspot.com MichiganGoat

      Well your about 20 years behind with that idea but yes finding a way to increase MLB reach to children, but the greater problem with baseball is that it’s hard to just play in the backyard with only a few friends (football) and diamonds are not at every single city park and requires close to a full team as compared to basketball where a hoop is found everywhere and you don’t need anybody else to enjoy playing. The number of players, supplies (ball, bat, mitt), and space needed will always prevent baseball to equally compete with NFL/NBA accessibility. But there are things they can do and I expect the next commish will make that a major focus.

      • ClevelandCubsFan

        If they’re smart, the foreclosure crisis left golden opportunities for the RBI (restoring baseball in the innercity) program. Here in CLE, we are building beautiful spaces on the site of League Park, one of the last jewel box stadiums. While not restoring the stadium (oh but the could have with some RBI money), it’ll be a great place to play 2 for area youth. Property, the space for diamonds, is plentiful right now. Maybe they should look at a way to play the game with inexpensive, swappable materials to get the tools in the hands of every kid in America. Think a first world version of milk carton gloves.

      • ChrisFChi

        One thing I didn’t like with Bud in office, was when MLB told little leauges they could not use MLB team logos on hats/jersey/shirtseys kids wear without paying royalties to MLB. I think that helped in the decline of interest to kids.

  • Diehardthefirst

    Several weeks I reported that Tanaka was having visa delay issues- turns out I was right – Today Sen Schumer admitted he pulled strings to move visa app to front- any laws broken? Schumer may now be investigated – luv it!! cause Tanaka may now be moved to the back of the line

    • TWC

      “… any laws broken?”

      No.

      “Schumer may now be investigated”

      That’s a lie.

      http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/mlb-big-league-stew/masahiro-tanaka-time-spring-training-thanks-york-senator-220517984–mlb.html

      • DarthHater

        “… any laws broken?”

        Only the laws of logic and factual accuracy.

        FTFY

      • Diehardthefirst

        Res Ipsa Loquitor Quid pro quo

    • DarthHater

      Bullshit, man. The reports say that Schumer is helping to expedite Tanaka’s visa process, but there are no reports of any “visa delay issues” for Tanaka – just the amount of time that it typically takes for any foreign player to get a visa. Nor are there any reports of Schumer being investigated. I suppose there are some universes in the quantum multiverse in which he “may” be investigated, just as there are many in which monkeys may fly out of my butt.

    • brainiac

      the cubs will just lower their offer if he goes back on the market.

  • Austin

    I’m a little late to the party but I think the biggest reason why so few kids watch the sport is because of the idiotic blackout restrictions and the lack of games on TV.

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