Baseball is Far From a Dying Sport
By Ken Reed
For years now, some baseball writers have been lamenting the decline in baseball’s popularity in general, and with young people in particular.
They contend the game is too slow and of little interest to sports fans below the senior set.
It’s true that in-game attendance has dropped in recent years. But I think that’s mostly due to a growing number of teams openly tanking in recent years. Teams have basically told their fans don’t come, we don’t plan to be good for five years or so.
The truth is, a lot of people are still going to baseball games in this country. As Juliette Love wrote recently in the New York Times,
“MLB. cashes in on its sheer volume of games, vastly outperforming the NFL. and the NBA in ticket sales every year. MLB. teams play at least 2,430 regular-season games each season, compared with only 256 regular-season games for the NFL and 1,230 for the NBA. Even the 160 MLB-affiliated minor league teams sold nearly 50 million tickets in 2017. A lot of people are going to a lot of baseball games.”
Yes, national television ratings have also been trending down in recent years, especially in relation to NFL ratings. But baseball has a different broadcasting model than the NFL. Baseball is built on local broadcasts. Teams sell exclusive rights for most of their games to local stations. And these local broadcasts are popular, extremely so in some cases, according to Nielsen ratings:
* In 2019, 12 of the 29 United States-based major league teams were the most popular prime-time broadcast in their market. An additional seven teams ranked in the top three in prime time.
* On cable, 24 major league teams ranked first in their market in prime time.
* MLB ranked first over all on cable in every major league market in the United States except Miami.
When it comes to baseball’s popularity with younger fans, one can’t simply look at their TV viewing habits to determine if they like baseball or not. Younger fans follow sports, especially baseball, via the Internet, e.g., watching highlights on social media and various websites. Gen Z fans (those born in 1997 or later) follow their favorite sport over the Internet twice as often as Baby Boomers. They’re also three times more likely to listen to podcasts and play fantasy sports than Boomers. When it comes to Gen Z’s favorite sport, MLB is even with the NFL. That’s shocking I’m sure to baseball’s doomsayers.
It’s important to remember that Gen Z is the first generation of digital natives. These young fans thrive on digital media options when it comes to following their sports teams. For example, MLB’s At Bat mobile app is very popular with young fans. It puts baseball online, where young fans spend a lot of their time. Moreover, baseball is the sport most into data analytics, which appeals to a lot of young fans. And there are a ton of websites devoted to baseball analytics.
To keep — and grow — its base of young fans, MLB needs to fully embrace technology and data.
“In order to maintain its popularity among Gen Z, MLB will need to stay ahead of the curve by using the latest technology to engage fans,” writes Vince Gennaro in a piece for the Sports Business Journal.
“This might mean creating a second (or third) screen broadcast, or using augmented reality to satisfy the analytical fan who wants deeper insights into in-game action. Smart stadiums wired with the latest technology and conveniences and leading-edge environmental practices will connect with young fans on their terms.”
Baseball leaders doesn’t need to “modernize the game” to capture the interest of young people. They just need to keep their focus on how young people engage with the sport.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #32 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Prolific Author Joe Posnanski Joins the Show – Posnanski is one of America’s best sportswriters and has twice been named the best sports columnist in America by the Associated Press Sports Editors. We chat about his new book, “Why We Love Baseball,” his new Substack newsletter called Joe Blogs, and we cover topics including how baseball treats its fans, MLB’s numerous rule changes this past season, how the sport can become more fan-friendly, the greatness of Negro Leagues champion Buck O’Neil, and much more.
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Episode #31 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Foul Ball Safety Is Still an Important Issue at Ballparks – Our guests are Jordan Skopp, founder of FoulBallSafety.com and Greg Wilkowski, a Chicago based attorney. We discuss the historical problem of foul balls injuring fans and why some teams are still hesitant to put up protective netting in some minor league and college baseball parks.
Episode #30 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The State of College Athletics with Dr. David Ridpath: Problems and Potential Solutions – Ridpath is a sports administration professor at Ohio University and a member of The Drake Group, a college sports reform think tank.
Episode #29 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Honorable Tom McMillen Visits League of Fans’ Sports Forum – McMillen is a former All-American basketball player, Olympian, Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Congressman. We discuss the state of college athletics today.
Episode #28 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Chat With Mano Watsa, a Leading Basketball and Life Educator – Watsa is President of PGC Basketball, the largest education basketball camp in the world. We discuss problems in youth sports today.
Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- Reed Appears on Ralph Nader Radio Hour League of Fans’ sports policy director, Ken Reed, Ralph Nader and the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner discussed a variety of sports issues on Nader’s radio show as well as Reed’s updated book, How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. Reed's book was released in paperback in February, and has a new introduction and several updated sections.
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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