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It’s Time for Baseball to Get Serious About Improving the Product

The sport is failing to grab the attention of fans, either at the ballpark or in the living room.

Opening Day 2017 by Bryce Edwards is licensed under CC BY 2.0

It’s Time for Baseball to Get Serious About Improving the Product

Estimated Reading Time: 3 Minutes

The game of baseball has a problem. The players might tell you it’s the shameful free agent market or juiced baseballs. The MLB Players’ Association might say it’s the lack of league-wide initiative to promote it’s own superstars. The league itself would rebut almost all of that.

But all of this in-fighting between the players, their reps, and the league only shows that nobody here is looking at the big picture. The 10,000 foot view. 

Because such a vantage point would scream one thing: that interest in the game is fading in the U.S.

As a lifelong baseball fan, I take no pleasure in saying that. But the writing is on the wall. The 2019 All-Star Game set the record for the lowest TV ratings the event has ever seen. Overall, local TV ratings have dropped 4% on average. Attendance at games is looking like it’s going to drop for the fourth consecutive year as well, by roughly 1-2%. All this for a sport that an all-time low number of people (9%) claimed as their favorite to watch, according to a 2018 poll.

Trending in the wrong direction

But the sky isn’t falling, at least not just yet. Baseball still has a loyal following and won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. And perhaps that’s what is causing the players and the league to balk at significant changes to the way the game is played, and ultimately how the on-the-field product evolves. Too much complacency. Perhaps it’s a heavy reliance on “tradition”, the grandeur of “America’s Pastime”. Proposed changes to the game get mulled around at the winter meetings year after year, but implementation is either slow or non-existent. 

And know where that’s gotten us? Games that average over 3 hours in length.

I, for one, support rapid and significant change. Let’s fondly remember the game we grew up with, and recognize it just can’t exist in today’s entertainment landscape. And then leave it in the past. Try the pitch clock. Reduce mound visits. Set time limits on games. Shorten the season. Try anything and everything until the nightly product not only becomes digestible to the average American sports fan, but enticing.

Because right now, the game of baseball has little of interest to sell to fans. Next to nothing that can induce cravings in the appetites of hungry sports-watchers. Three-plus hour games on 6 nights of the week? Five minutes of dead time between balls in play? Endless late-inning pitching changes? Or how about a 23-minute delay in the game because the umps lost track of the players on the field?

It just strays too far from the fast-paced, compact product of the NHL or NBA, or the minimal, once-weekly time commitment of the NFL. Something has to give.

Time to figure it out

When I hear Justin Verlander complain about juiced baseballs, or Tony Clark lament that the game’s stars aren’t household names, I can’t help but cringe. Because these kinds of complaints show a sort of deafness to the true state of the game. Everyone’s missing the point. They’re still trying to fit that square peg into a round hole and make fans watch the game the way they prefer it to be played. I’m not saying the balls have to be juiced. But the outrage at the possibility of a more lively ball only indicates how opposed players could be when it comes to real change for the sport. I can’t be the only one who thinks this isn’t sustainable.

Fan interest is fading, and those ablest to tackle the issue head-on aren’t willing to budge. 

Perhaps that is baseball’s biggest problem

Ryan Kelly lives in Cambridge, MA, a stone's throw away from his beloved Boston teams. When he is not working as an editorial assistant, he is providing commentary on the Boston Red Sox and Boston Bruins for The Turf.

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