When baseball was in it’s full glory it was America’s game. It wasn’t the American dad’s game or the American kid’s game, it was the game American’s as a family watched and talked about. It was accessible to the young who grew up obsessed. That obsession was then passed down to the next generation. This passing down has stopped. It’s stopped because baseball is no longer a game for families. It is a game for adults. It lost much of it’s excitement. And in a hyper competitive market for kids attention, baseball is woefully lacking. Here are the main reasons why kids and families don’t have baseball in common anymore.
Problem #1: Expense
When I was young, our family would attend Dodger games on a regular basis. The Dodgers had Ladies Night once a week when they were home. If I remember correctly it was on Monday Night. On those nights my Mom and three sisters could get in for $.50 a piece. I was a child, so It cost $.75 for my ticket. My Dad paid full price for himself, $1.50. My Dad could get his family of six into Dodger Stadium for a grand total of $4.25. This was the Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Maury Wills Dodgers years. Between 1959 and 1966 they won four National League Pennants and three World Series Titles. They moved from the Los Angeles Coliseum to Dodger Stadium in 1962. They were the most profitable franchise in sports. My two older sisters and myself are still huge baseball fans, and to be specific, huge Dodgers’ fans (you can read about that here.)
Whereas my daughter, the other main writer on this blog, takes her family of 5 to only a couple of Rangers games a year. Her husband, herself and their 3 children under the age of 7 will go to big games (like the 2018 season where the Rangers played the Dodgers, they also try to see a Mariners game, her husbands childhood team) or whenever they can find cheap tickets. Cheap tickets to them is under $10 a piece. After parking and with no food, they never get to go to a game for less than $60.
The lesson for baseball here: make your game accessible to young people and you have a customer for life. Last August we took our 5 year old grandson to a Minor League Baseball game for his birthday. We brought six adults and three children to the game. The ages of the children were 6, 5, and 3. It costs $140, or $15.50 apiece, and there lies a major problem for baseball. They have priced families with young children out of the market. If you don’t capture young people early, it’s nearly impossible to capture them later.
Problem #2: First Pitch Time
World Series games are too late at night. Between the first pitch times (8 PM Eastern) and the length of games (this year they averaged 3 hours and 45 minutes), even most adults couldn’t last until the end of the games. If it was tough for grown-ups, how is it for kids who need to go to school the next day. We know they do it for television money but, as we’ve shown in previous articles, TV ratings have continued to fall, which indicates that putting games on for television revenue is not a growth strategy. It is another example of baseball putting short term profits over long term growth.
If one does not have cable or satellite in their home, they have no access to baseball on television. This is increasingly becoming the case. As cable rates rise and access to streaming services answer the demand, its sports with a lot of games like baseball that are struggling to in the new television market. This is another example of baseball’s failure to show their product to new fans. We talked about this extensively in football’s viewership problem, but much of it applies here as well.
Problem #3: Technology and Umpiring
The last problem we want to address is the calling of balls and strikes. Baseball has made giant strides in integrating TV replay into the game. The problem is they still don’t use technology to call balls and strikes. They experimented with an electronic method in the low minors this pass season. It seemed to garner more positive reviews than negative. They need to perfect the equipment quickly and put it into use as soon as possible. When fans immediately know when the Home Plate Umpire missed a call, that’s a problem. This is not a knock on the umpires. Calling balls and strikes is an impossible job, but look at what electronic replays has done for line calls in tennis, and then imagine the controversies that would be eliminated if baseball did the same thing with the umpire’s most difficult rulings.
This issue is especially important to the incoming generations of baseball fans. Whereas older generations talk about the style of an umpire, kids see the box on the screen and find unfairness and falsehood in the calls.
Baseball is my favorite sport. It’s a great game, with a storied history. We at A Sip of Sports want it to grow. As a child I collected baseball cards, fought with my Dad in the morning over the sports pages of the Los Angeles Times. I wanted to see the box scores, not just for the Dodgers, but for every Major League game. It was well known to my many uncles and aunts, that if you took Dave anywhere you better be ready to listen to Baseball statistics. At school my friends and I would talk baseball all the time. Who’s more valuable, Willie Mays or Sandy Koufax? Who’s the greatest third baseman of all time? I used to always argue for Pie Traynor, others chose Eddie Mathews (I didn’t say I was smart). The debates were spirited, but we talked about it constantly. Do you ever hear young people talk baseball like that today? Why not? They don’t follow it, because it isn’t easily available to them.
What point are we trying to make?
Baseball games are too long, and boring. Somehow they need to integrate speed back into the game. They need to change rules to get pitchers to throw more strikes, and batters to swing at more pitches. The game needs to have a much higher percentage of pitches being put in play. This would put a bigger emphasis on defense. Hitting a ball out of the ballpark for a home run is much too common. Watching someone hit the ball over the fence, then pose majestically, and trot around the bases, is the least interesting way to watch a team score a run.
Next week we’ll deal with some changes baseball can make to improve their game. You may have some of your own, feel free to share them.