Popularity Contest Part III
Buried deep beneath the rubble of perception and failed endeavors, baseball is in a position it has never been before; the edge of irrelevancy. Maybe that’s a little extreme. After all, there’s still the NHL and NBA to always buoy baseball. However, Major League Baseball is in definite need of some tweaking.
First, we’ll address baseball’s biggest problem. The belief that baseball is boring is not a new one, and quiet frankly, it’s ridiculous. Baseball is far from boring. It is a game full of moments. Moments that defy odds, shine on the biggest stage, and personify action. Yet, the perception lives on and grows like a weed rooted deep in the sporting public’s mind.
The biggest problem preventing baseball from living up to its exciting potential is television. Not the games on TV specifically, but the television broadcasters. If you are a baseball fan already, sit and watch a game with a non-fan. Just pay attention to the broadcasters and your friend. Stories of “the guy who dropped nachos” and “that time we bet on who could eat more hot dogs” trumps the reason a runner on first chooses to go on a 3-2 count with only one out, or the reason a fielder takes two steps to the right when a particular batter steps to the plate. The television cameras pan through the stands, pick out the pretty girls and the kids covered in ice cream, and they flash advertisements for the upcoming Sunday NFL game.
If television were a bit more like radio, the “boring” label would be lessened. The idea that baseball is not entertaining comes from a lack of understanding. Many of the people I have watched baseball with for the first time simply did not fully understand the game. Knowledge leads toward understanding, and understanding brings the excitement. Football probably has as many intricacies as baseball, but the game itself is straight-forward action. Tackles and touchdown passes are inherently exciting. They don’t need explaining. But bunts with runners on first and second with one out need some sort of explaining. A stolen base in the bottom of the seventh needs explaining. An intentional walk in a one-run game needs a heck of a lot of explaining. But you don’t get that from television. Baseball’s biggest problem is their television broadcasters. They treat the games as their own video blogs and forget to teach, inform, and wow their viewers. Change that, and baseball is on the right path.
Next, another television-induced problem. People do not watch baseball on television religiously. Unlike football and basketball, Major League Baseball is shown on so many regional channels, the average fan usually has the choice of his local team or, well, his local team. Die hard fans will spring for MLB Extra Innings or MLB.tv, but the average joe is going to flip on his Kansas City Royals local broadcast, think all of baseball is a horrid display of mediocrity, and move right along to Dancing With the Stars (sorry Royals fans, a low blow I know).
With more national broadcats, whether they be on ESPN and Fox, or on lesser utilized channels like TNT, TBS, and FX, baseball would benefit. Competition breeds success. The local market just has to slap on a couple of cheesy graphics, some upbeat sound effects, and pitch the nightly game to its local fans. However, with the competition of national broadcasts night in and night out, baseball channels across the board will have to step up their game.
Now how does this lead toward an increase in fan excitement and participation? Well, we’ve already established that perception is reality. With commercial competition, each and every game will have to advertised to its fullest. The advertisements for the nightly games will show only the best baseball has to offer, and in turn should bring more casual fans.
If you didn’t notice, I keep mentioning nightly games. That leads us to another one of baseball’s destructive perceptions. The games don’t matter. Part of this belief is based on the incredibly long schedule. However, the schedule is necessary to root out the pretenders and get to the true contenders every season. The number of games, of course, leads to weekday games. Those games are the problem.
Whether it be tradition, media contracts, or some other reason, Major League Baseball insists on hosting a countless number of weekday games during the afternoon. Now, I love afternoon baseball as much as the next guy, but not on a weekday. The majority of our working population (you know the ones that can afford to go to baseball games and can afford the cable packages to watch them on TV) works during the week. Each of those afternoon weekday games is lost on the casual fan, thereby limiting baseball’s audience to die-hards.
In combination with more national broadcasts, baseball could easily move their afternoon games to night starts after most people finish work. They don’t have to be 7:05 PM start times, 6:35 PM or some other time would work just as well. And what would the game be losing?
It’s possible that these are not the be-all, end-all solutions for increasing baseball’s popularity, and with the momentum behind the NFL, baseball may never re-capture number one in the hearts of sports fans. But that’s not a reason to continue to be complacent. Major League Baseball must not stand still while the world passes it by. Changes are paramount to re-branding the game and attracting new fans. The fact is sports are a popularity contest, and if you’re not number one, you’re losing.