This is letter from a potential fan. It’s no secret that Major League Baseball is worried about declining fan interest and the aging population of its fan base. The MLB has been behind the NFL in television viewers for a while now. However, recently, the NBA Finals are getting more viewers than the World Series. In a recent article, the Wall Street Journal noted that the average age of an NBA viewer is 40 and that the average age of an MLB viewer is 57. You need to know how to appeal to more fans and younger fans.
That’s where I come in. I’m a sports fan in my mid to late 20’s. I do at least a quick check of ESPN.com almost every day. I played little league baseball and am now in an adult softball league, but I never considered myself a baseball fanatic. I enjoy watching baseball at the end of September and throughout the playoffs, but rarely watch a full game. I’ll just watch a couple innings here or there. I spend much, much more time watching college football or the NBA. In others words, I’m your target fan.
I’m younger and am very interested in sports in general. I have some interest in baseball, but would need a couple things to change before investing more time (and money) into the sport. The most important thing is the pace of play.
Baseball seems slower than football or basketball. Some reasons for this are because there are unlimited timeouts, there is lots of time to get ready to give or take a pitch, all coupled with the fact that the rules trying to speed up pitchers or hitters are rarely enforced (although MLB is, to their credit, working on this).
First let me discuss the unlimited timeouts. I consider a timeout any break from the action. This usually consists of trips to the mound from the catcher, infielders, and/or a coach. Why are these unlimited!?! Baseball enthusiasts say that these trips are an important way to calm the pitcher down. Of course they are! But why are they unlimited?! I bet a rookie quarterback in the NFL wishes he could take an extra-long break to talk to his teammates and coaches and to calm down a little. But of course, he can’t take a break every time he wants one. That’s part of the game. And it makes the game more exciting. Baseball should learn from this. I believe there should be nine timeouts a game, which is an average of one an inning. Any trip to the pitcher’s mound (including pitching changes) counts as a time out. This would make trips to the pitcher’s mound less frequent and more strategic. It would also make pitching changes more strategic. And, best of all, it would speed up the game especially during the most intense parts. I don’t want to see a catcher take three trips to the pitcher’s mound during a really important inning with runners on base. Give me more action and less breaks!
Second, I would like to see a pitching clock and enforced delay-of-game penalties. Pitchers, of course, are generally against this because they don’t want to be rushed. They say it messes up their concentration. Of course it does! SEC quarterbacks don’t want to be rushed by the thought of potential delay-of-game penalties while playing a road game in Baton Rouge, LA. But it’s part of the game. And it makes the game more exciting. Imagine a crowd getting extra loud for an opposing pitcher in an attempt to get him to commit a delay-of-game penalty. This would make watching a pitcher more exciting (“Is he going to get this pitch off in time?”). It would also speed up the game.
One reason baseball is reluctant to change is because of tradition. Baseball has a wonderful tradition. It’s hard to compare Tom Brady to Bart Starr because the NFL rules have changed so much over the decades. You can’t look at the stats of Bill Russell and the stats of Tim Duncan side by side because scoring is so much more prevalent today than 45 years ago. But you can (to an extent) look at today’s baseball players and compare them to players who came 50 or even 100 years ago. That is a great thing about baseball. I respect baseball for it. However, because of tradition, baseball is less likely to embrace change. And without change, it will be harder to get more out of borderline “fans” like me.
A young, potential fan