Baseball is facing a major problem. Over the past few decades, the youth of America has grown less and less interested in the 150-plus-year old sport. Once considered America’s pastime, many children are now passing over baseball for more “exciting” sports, such as basketball and lacrosse. According to a March 2011 Wall Street Journal article, the number of children aged 7 to 17 playing baseball has plummeted 24% over the past decade. Several other studies also reveal declines in youths both playing and watching baseball. Here are some things Major League Baseball can do to reverse this troubling trend…
Earlier Start Times
Weeknight baseball games typically begin at 7:05 PM local time. This is simply too late for many younger children to be able to attend an entire game, even in the summertime. Attending baseball games is a great way to become interested in the sport; being at a game is far more exciting than watching one on television. MLB should require teams to start at least one game every few weeks during the summer at 5:00 or 6:00. And have more weekend day games so that more younger children could attend, experiencing baseball in its richest form. These games could be designated “children’s games,” and include some of the following.
Involve and Educate
Prior to certain games, teams could involve youth by conducting baseball clinics on the actual playing field. Teams could help educate young fans about the sport by giving away special “baseball cards.” These cards would explain an aspect of baseball (such as the sacrifice fly), provide statistics about that aspect, and an interesting bit of history. Over time, I believe that children would collect and trade these cards. Children could also receive a pamphlet in a comic book format about baseball basics and the sport’s history. The mascot could throw more baseballs, tee shirts, or other inexpensive objects into the stands during the game (is there anything cooler than catching something at a baseball game?). The team could ask children to make baseball-themed drawings, showing tehm on the JumboTron in a montage.
Speed Up Games
The pace of games must be increased. While baseball is not as fast paced as hockey and will never be hard-hitting like football, baseball needs to provide enough action to satisfy the short attention spans of many young children. A snail-paced pitcher or batter can suppress the momentum of the game. Specific time limitations must be put on pitchers to ensure that a game’s pace is not stalled. Hitters must also be required to remain in the batters’ box more and limit their time-wasting superstitious routines. Perhaps if a pitcher takes too long, a ball would be called, and if a batter takes too long, a strike would be called. MLB has placed added emphasis on increasing the pace, but have only had limited success. They have not made an adequate commitment to this. Umpires would need to enforce these time rules consistently to increase pace of games. I believe that these changes would even attract more adults.
MLB players must understand that there is no inherent value in hitting a baseball. The value comes from fans who are willing to pay for this entertainment. Thus, to help ensure that MLB players 30 years down the road are paid astronomical salaries, the current players should be more accommodating to younger fans. The players should visit more local schools, sign more autographs, and generally show more appreciation to all fans. Today’s young fans are tomorrow’s adults, who will be deciding whether to spend their hard-earned money on baseball entertainment.
Ticket and concession prices should be decreased at these designated “children’s games”, allowing more families to attend. Additional specific seating areas should be designated as “family sections,” in which no alcoholic beverages would be allowed. The mascot should visit these sections during the games, and hand out souvenirs to a few “lucky rows.” Fans in the family sections should be featured on the JumboTron with regularity.
Major League Baseball is extremely lucrative, having grossed $7 billion in revenue during 2010. Although adopting these changes may slightly hurt the league financially in the short-term, they are required for the long-term viability of baseball. If a child develops a positive impression about baseball early in life, there is a greater chance that he or she will become a lifelong fan. It is unlikely that children of a “lost generation” of baseball fans would become serious fans themselves. It is crucial that baseball wins more young fans over the next one or two decades. If not, baseball will fade further into the background. MLB must adopt changes to help breed the next generation of baseball fans and to assure its financial future.