Nick Hardwick responds to a Maury Brown article in Forbes titled, “Major League Baseball Is Dead, As You Know It’. By contrast, Nick explains why 'America’s Pastime' fits perfectly into our modern lives.
I recently read an article by Maury Brown for Forbes titled, “Major League Baseball Is Dead, As You Know It’. Maury cites the revenue having grown in Major League Baseball over the last twenty years from $1.2 to $12 Billion annually. He also sites the national television ratings being up, as well as casual participation by a whopping 12.9%, the largest of all team sports. Those numbers are not growing by happenstance. Despite the way old time baseball people may scorn the modern fan and the updated sport, Major League Baseball is not dead. Rather, as the numbers show, baseball is more alive and more relevant than it’s ever been.
Keeping the attention span of 'the Millennials’ is not the objective of baseball. Being a part of your lives is the objective of baseball, and they are absolutely crushing it in that respect. The casual participation number being up by 12.9% highlights this fact. Sure, baseball purist will argue that it’s all about the game within the game, the strategy, and the statistics. To the contrary, baseball is a nightly sitcom television show with characters who face natural highs and lows, allowing us to follow the drama, as we choose. These games are self contained, a lot like a sitcom, where they are bundled conveniently into 30 minute segments. It’s unnecessary to watch one game to pick up the story line the next night. And, as with sitcoms, you don’t have to park your butt on the couch for the entire show. You can come and go, have a laugh, fold some laundry, get some work done, and still enjoy the show. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the NFL. Football is a 16-part dramatic series. One game is tied to the next. By sheer numbers of contests in a season, the level of importance, seriousness, and drama is heightened in the NFL. One NFL game is equivalent to 10 MLB games It’s like the OJ 10-part series done by ESPN 30 for 30. You didn’t want to miss a minute of the action. Not only is it that way at home, it’s that way at the stadium, too. If forced to miss a minute of a football game, it like leaving a movie to go do some shopping in the attached mall. Nobody does that. Sure, you may scurry to the restroom, but you certainly aren’t going to go hit up Lululemon or the J. Crew while your movie is going on.
Baseball fits perfectly into the lives of our changing, ‘distracted' population. Baseball isn’t a sport that requires great focus or attention. You can get the gist of the game with sparing glances, in between reading articles on twitter, playing on Instagram, or even doing work around the house. The background is filled with the voices of the commentators, who regionally, do a tremendous job of bringing us into their family. When the bat cracks the ball, it’s an audible signal that forces your eyes up from your “work” or “play”. You direct your attention to the screen for the next 35-40 seconds before resuming your homework for the next day of school or work. You continue your conversation when you notice it’s a foul ball or a routine grounder. You celebrate when it’s a home run for a minute. And then, as always, you return to your life.
Baseball purists want everyone to be as focused, and nuanced as them. Yet, the game has changed out of their wheelhouses of small ball, pitching duels, and defense and into that of the millennials and the way we “new baseball fans” like to watch the sport. We want to see pitchers throw 100 mph and see balls fly 500 feet. Home runs were hit at a record pace last year and these new fans were none the wiser that MLB had allowed changes in the ball that enabled even mediocre players to crack 25 home runs. Baseball allowed this to happen to draw in fans from other sports, who appreciate power and offense. And it worked. Anecdotally, everyone I survey that isn’t a baseball purist, loves a home run more than any other aspect of the sport. It’s working. Just as the 'juiced human’ era of baseball was as lively as I can remember, the ‘juiced ball’ era of baseball has drawn a lot of attention from casual fans.
In Maury’s article, he goes on to cite MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred’s comments about the home of the Toronto Blue Jays, the Rogers Centre, being outdated, and needing “millennial areas” to stay current with the modern baseball fan population. Funny, how the ‘old guard’ is so protective over ’their sport’, yet without the revenue that the newbies bring in, ’their sport’ would die. Nobody watches baseball that way anymore, and probably only a select few ever did. Baseball is a leisurely game. As mentioned with watching games at home earlier, the same can be said for watching at the park. Yes, there are a lot of ‘distractions’ at a major league ballpark if you want to look at them like that. Or, there are a lot of amenities for a modern baseball fan, oftentimes with young kids in tow. These kids, and fans, have limited capacity to sit down for 4 hours and count the slider to fastball ratio. Here’s how our games go. Watch two innings, go grab a bag of peanuts. Come back. Watch two more innings. Stretch the legs, and go to the restroom. Watch another couple of innings and head home to catch the rest of it on television. Petco Park, our home field, has all of the food, clothing, and festivities on a nightly basis that a fan could ask for. Kids want to go to play on the bounce houses. Moms want to learn about the guys through their fun, interactive digital media on the Jumbo-Tron, and dad can watch some ball and grab a beer, and catch up on some work. There’s something for everybody. It’s an incredibly inviting atmosphere for families. More so than any other sport, particularly football, it is family friendly to the nth degree. We use it as a chance to bond with one another. We sing all of the songs, try our hardest to get on the big screen, and play along with that ‘which hat is the ball under game’. We have a gas every time we go. It fits perfectly into the modern family and millennial lifestyle. It’s good wholesome fun. And who says how we watch a game isn’t as good as how you watch?
As far as the future of stadiums go, it may be the only place that has a reasonable future in getting money from municipalities. As Maury stated, ''Sports Leagues will be looking for a new shiny stadium or arena largely on the backs of taxpayers for as long as they can.’
81 times a year you can find 30-50,000 fans roaming around a mall of sorts, shopping at all of the various restaurants and vendors. The city gets so much more use out of a MLB stadium than it does an NFL stadium. 81 times for parking. That’s nearly 10 times the local restaurants and shops are flooded with eyeballs and dollars of the USA’s king of sports, NFL garners.
When I hear the pace of play and length of season argument against baseball, I can’t help but laugh. These are not concerns of the modern fan. Baseball fans realize that you must pace yourself. The season is 162 games. If I miss 1 or 2 or 10 games here and there, it’s still going to be there waiting for me, the old standby. If I can’t catch the first 2 innings or the last 3, I’ll be able to track it on my phone when I wake up in the morning. It’s a wonderful laze faire approach to sports. And as old and timeless as the game is, it’s laid back nature is quite refreshing.
Baseball is built perfectly to withstand the test of time. It’s slow pace allows for us to continue to be distracted by other time-sucks, while continuing to pay attention loosely to the game, both at home and at the park. We don’t have to give unadulterated attention. We can give fractional attention. We can, as we millennials like to say, multi-task. Novel concept. Baseball, as baseball purists are concerned may be dead. But, baseball, for millennials, young families, and municipalities are concerned, is alive and well. And maybe, baseball has the best and brightest future of all of America’s sports.
Photos: Getty Images
Here's what Maury Brown had to say on the Mark and Rich Show yesterday.