Baseball: America’s Past Time
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Apple pie. The Star Spangled Banner. Baseball. Few other ideals define the American spirit better than those three traditions. Shoot, intermingle all three and you might as well call yourself a true American hero.
But one of those American favorites has recently witnessed a dip in popularity. Can you take a guess? No, it’s not apple pie — sugar will never go out of style. The Star Spangled Banner? No, I would be disowned for making such a claim. (On a side note, the Star Spangled Banner is rocking at an all-time high.)
If you hadn’t guessed by simply reading the headline, baseball would be the correct answer in this simple quiz. I am not mouthing — or shall I say, “typing” — off on the sport of baseball. Rather, undeniable quantitative data supports my claim. Baseball is America’s PASTtime — as in, it is a wonder of the past slowly becoming less relevant on the professional stage.
The core of baseball features no issues. I have always enjoyed playing baseball growing up, and it’s a wonderful sport for anyone to pursue. The physical turmoil is less hazardous than football, yet families and friends can still enjoy a time well-spent outdoors. Do not misconceive my point. Baseball is fun to play and watch in-person.
And that is where the cookie crumbles, folks. While baseball will continue to thrive at the recreational and high school level, the current and foreseeable future suggests television and technology will play instrumental roles in the popularity of professional sports. And baseball finds its greatest struggles on television.
The slow-paced style of today’s baseball is not conducive to entertaining television. Just take the stats as they are. Both FOX and ESPN have seen continual decreases in their prime time game viewership from 2003 to 2012. During the ten-year span, FOX saw a decrease from 3.37 million to 2.5 million; in only one year, 2011, did the provider see an uptick from the previous year.
And that’s not attributed to more people attending games. Attendance ratings have also dipped; they are down over 2,000 people per game from 2007 to 2014. So, what’s the crux of the issue? Baseball games are taking longer than ever and are watered down by a lack of hitting.
In 1954, the average baseball game lasted two hours and 31 minutes. Fifty years later, the number spiked by 20 minutes. But in 2014, only ten years later, the number skyrocketed to an additional 18 minutes, where games are now lasting, on average, three hours and nine minutes. In only one-fifth of the time, the MLB (Major League Baseball) witnessed a similar increase.
Because of the pitchers’ domination in these three-plus hour games, the younger audience has turned its attention to other professional leagues: mainly the NFL (National Football League), NBA (National Basketball Association), and even the MLS (Major League Soccer). Fifty percent of the MLB’s fan base consists of individuals 55 years-of-age and older. Troublingly, only 17 percent of baseball’s viewers are between the ages of 18 and 34.
The NBA controls the young adult audience, as 32 percent of its viewers are between the ages of 18 and 34 — the highest percentage of any age bracket in basketball. Meanwhile, the NFL boasts 20 percent viewership in that group and 34 percent viewership in the 35-54 age bracket.
Even the MLS, despite lower total views, shows more promise for the future than baseball. Twenty-six percent of its viewers are in the young adult bracket while 34 percent are between the ages of 35 and 54.
Face it: Baseball has taken a step out of the batter’s box in the company of the rapidly-growing NFL and NBA. The MLB’s inability to change with the times and make the game more entertaining for the younger crowd undoubtedly has affected its overall ratings. On the other hand, the NFL and NBA have made it a priority to shift to more offensive-laden games.
And they have reaped the benefits because of it. From 2004 to 2014, the NFL saw a 25 percent increase in viewership. The NBA’s views fluctuate by year more than the other two sports, but the 2015 NBA Finals received the highest rating for the program since 1998.
For baseball, the ballpark experience will be the same. The cotton candy, hot dogs, and Cracker Jacks will still be staples of a great American tradition. But as the product — from an entertainment aspect — continues to lose its quality, less people will flip the channel to an MLB game.
In today’s fast-paced American society, only hardcore baseball lovers will dedicate three-plus hours of their free time to watching the Yankees and Red Sox combine for 10 hits. Patrons may still enjoy the ballpark experience, but in a society where the Kardashians and Honey Boo-Boo enthrall audiences, the lack of excitement from a televised perspective presents problems for baseball both now and into the future.
Baseball enthusiasts, such as the 55-year-old-plus age group, will continue to support the sport, but where and how does the MLB gain new viewership? The NFL and NBA have successfully stimulated viewers — thus drawing new, younger fans — by still maintaining a quality product.
Now, it’s baseball’s turn to call in the reliever. Otherwise, a once great American pastime will ebb its way into the background of the sports scene.