Baseball, America’s pastime, might be past its time.
While the guardians of the game attempt to keep the sport firmly rooted in its past, fundamental issues may be dooming the game to the scrap heap of history.
At least that what some critics predict. Others say, hold on. The game is thriving, salaries are escalating, and people are coming in droves to watch their favorite teams.
It’s not performance-enhancing substances that are causing concern for pessimists. No, two other major issues will need to be addressed to keep the game relevant for millennials and subsequent generations: money and time.
How Much is That Baseball Ticket?
Tickets have skyrocketed over the past few decades. In 1980, the average lowest ticket price was $4.45 (about $9.68 in today’s dollars). By the year 2000, the average was over $16.00 Today, it is just over $31.00. Is there a breaking point for the average fan? Despite the high-ticket prices, baseball attendance continues to climb. The only thing that appears to be a deterrent to attendance is shoddy play and a meager win total. Prices don’t seem to be holding fans back from opening their wallets, unless, of course, the home team is a basement-dwelling train wreck.
According to Gobankingrates.com, watching a baseball game at Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies, will set your bank account back the least with a cost of $50. They calculate this amount based on two tickets (ticket prices are averaged over the entire home season), two hot dogs, two beers, and parking. On the other end of the scale is Yankee Stadium (surprise, surprise), where it will set you back $95 for those two cheap seats, parking (an amazing $35), the dogs, and the suds.
These are basically minimum amounts – tickets in the nosebleed section guaranteed. If you want to watch America’s pastime and see the plays at a reasonable distance, or perhaps take your family with you may require a second income or second mortgage on the family home. And of course – this is just the regular season. Want to see a playoff game? Start saving now. Hopefully by October, you’ll have the mega-bucks needed to see the games.
Owners don’t seem too concerned with this issue at the moment. Attendance is strong (as long as the home team wins a few), and media contracts are still paying the high price of salaries. And the fans just dig deeper in their pockets each year to pay for America’s pastime.
“The reason baseball calls itself a game is because it’s too screwed up to be a business” — Jim Bouton, author and former MLB player
Will This Baseball Game Ever End?
Can you speed things up, guys? I have a big day at the office tomorrow and I need to get some sleep tonight! Besides, it’s way past the kids’ bedtime!
The powers-that-be are a bit more worried about the pace of play. In a time when people can barely look up from their phones for a minute, sluggish, often ponderous play is seen as a cancer on the health of the game of baseball.
Young people aren’t being hooked by America’s game; they like basketball, extreme sports, and video games. The average age of a baseball viewer is now 57. Up from 53, less than a decade ago, and according to Mark Fisher’s article in the Washington Post (Baseball is Struggling to Hook Kids – and Risks Losing Fans to Other Sports), MLB viewers are the oldest of any sport. Add in the fact that participation in Little League has dropped precipitously, and you have a ticking time bomb of apathy for the sport of baseball.
There are two problems with too few young eyes on the America’s pastime:
- Older viewers don’t command the same level of advertising dollars as those in the 25-54 age demographic.
- Fifty-seven-year-olds are closer to death than millennials or Generation Z or whoever comes after. Sorry to say, but those of us past middle age will be dying off quicker than someone who is, say, thirty-seven, or twenty-seven. This may not be an issue right now for the baseball gods, but it will become an issue in the not-too-distant future. And, with the death of the old fans – there’s no one in the wings to replace them (or their wallets).
What Can Major League Baseball Do to Retain Its Relevancy?
Ticket prices are not a pressing issue, but a few things can be done.
- Ensure there are cheap seats, even if binoculars are needed to see the game.
- Ensure that there are family specials – four-packs, food discounts, giveaways etc. Bringing the family will help pass on the baseball legacy from parent to offspring.
- Dynamic pricing. Airlines, rental car companies and other industries do it. Sports is beginning to implement it – baseball can embrace it with a passion. Better games = higher prices. Matchup of last place teams = what a deal!
- Even better, do as the Oakland A’s are doing this Tuesday – give the seats away – don’t charge for parking, and let the fans spend their money on concessions and merchandise. Genius or gimmick? Only time will tell.
Pace of play is a pressing issue. MLB has begun to address this sleep-inducing, channel-changing problem. Potential changes to the pastime include limiting mound visits, implementing a between-innings timer, and installing a pitcher-change stopwatch? Will reducing a three-hour game to two hours and fifty minutes bring the younger generation to the game?
Or are more radical changes needed for the pastime to survive? Numerous rules changes were made as the game evolved during the later 1800s and early 1900s. However, in the last fifty years, changes have been few and far between – two that come to mind are the changes in the save rule in 1975 and the alteration of the slide rule on potential double plays in 2016.
My son, who played high school and some college baseball, says to make it seven innings. I disagree. But I’m in my sixties and he’s in his twenties. His vote may mean more for the future of the game.
He also suggests that baseball limit the number of relievers used in a game or an inning. I tend to agree with this one. Hey, it won’t alter the fundamentals of the game or mess with the ghosts of baseball past. I can still remember when closers pitched three innings, left-handed specialist was not in baseball vernacular, and bringing in a curve-ball pitcher to face a fast-ball hitter was not in a manager’s repertoire.
But, I’m old, a bit past the average baseball viewer’s age, and my son is probably the face of baseball fan’s future. The bigwigs who run The Show might do well to heed his advice.