By Ken Reed
As a game and entertainment product, Major League Baseball has plenty of problems.
* the pace of play is dreadful;
* strikeouts and walks are up and action is down;
* stolen base attempts are becoming extinct;
* a ball is only put in play every four minutes;
* just 20 per cent of generation Z members consider themselves fans of the game.
Yet instead of spending the offseason trying to fix these problems, owners and players have spent it whining about how to split hundreds of millions of dollars.
A great game is slowly dying, and owners and players have put that fact on the back burner in order to fight for a few more greenbacks in their wallets today.
I think the satisfaction of any short-term financial win – for either side – will be overshadowed by significant damage to the game if opening day of the season is wiped out and regular season games are lost.
The age of baseball’s average fan is getting older. Youngsters who typically played baseball are turning to sports like lacrosse, soccer and skateboarding. And research reveals that the chances of a young person becoming a lifelong fan of a given sport are significantly less if that youngster doesn’t play that sport as a child. When it comes to baseball, young people are checking out, and without spring training and the excitement of opening day, that exodus will increase.
Older fans are also checking out because the game they love has become little more than the ‘three true outcomes’ (strikeouts, walks and home runs). They don’t have time for financial squabbles, and they don’t like the product they’ve seen on the field the last five to 10 years. They’re ready to move on and figure they can get their baseball fix by watching college, high school and summer amateur games.
The lack of action and decreasing entertainment value have impacted MLB attendance, which is down more than seven per cent since 2015 and 14 per cent since the high point in 2007.
From a strategic baseball standpoint, analytics-driven tactics (ubiquitous shifts, batters swinging with huge uppercuts and not worrying about trying to put the ball in play in quest of home runs, risk-averse baserunners avoiding stolen base attempts, etc.) have worked. But they’re damaging baseball as an entertainment product.
I fully understand the importance of getting a collective bargaining agreement that provides financial stability for all stakeholders. I also understand that from a fandom perspective, baseball is losing ground to the other major professional sports due to all the reasons mentioned above – reasons that have made baseball more boring and thus less enticing as an entertainment product.
Everyone knows this labour dispute will eventually get settled. The owners will be happy with some things and not others. Same with the players.
But owners and players alike will be losers – as will the game itself – if the regular season doesn’t start on time and another shortened season results.
The saddest part is that players and owners aren’t even talking about ways to address the game’s problems during these ‘negotiations.’
They’d rather spend their time in a battle to the death to see who can be the greediest.
— Ken Reed is sports policy director for League of Fans, a sports reform project. He is the author of The San ports Reformers, Ego vs. Soul in Sports, and How We Can Save Sports.
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #21 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Chatting About a Broken Game With Baseball Writer Pedro Moura – Moura is a national baseball writer for Fox Sports. He previously covered the Los Angeles Dodgers for The Athletic. His new book is titled “How to Beat a Broken Game: The Rise of the Dodgers in a League on the Brink.” We discuss how and why the game of baseball is broken, what factors caused it, and offer a few thoughts on how to “fix” a great game.
Follow on Facebook: @SportsForumPodcast
Episode #20 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Coaching Youth and High School Sports Based On What’s Best for the Athlete’s Holistic Development – We chat with long-time youth, high school and college basketball coach Jim Huber.
Episode #19 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Capturing the Spirit of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League with Anika Orrock – We discuss the hoops AAGPFL women had to jump through to play the game they loved as well as the long-term impact and legacy they have in advancing sports opportunities for girls and women.
Episode #18 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Talking about the 50th Anniversary of Title IX and the Lia Thomas Controversy with Nancy Hogshead-Makar – Hogshead-Makar is a triple gold medalist in swimming, a civil rights attorney and CEO of Champion Women.
Episode #17 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Talking Sports With Legendary New York Times Sports Columnist Robert Lipsyte – We chat about Lipsyte’s amazing career and some of the athletes he covered.
Episode #16 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Andrew Maraniss: Outstanding Author of Books That Focus On the Intersection of Sports, History and Social Justice.
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.
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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.
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