They say time is of the essence.
But, maybe time is what gives baseball it’s essence.
Throughout the previous half century, analysts and fans alike have all opined on why people think the game is boring and not appealing to a younger demographic. They cite numerous factors, but the common denominator amongst them, time.
The game is too long.
There are too many mound visits.
Too many pitching changes.
Batters need to stop stepping in and out of the box between pitches.
Time is what makes baseball, baseball. It is a game rich in strategy, similar to a game of chess being played upon a diamond.
But baseball also represents a microcosm of life. Where you fail 70 percent of the time, and yet, are still having fun. Time is not why baseball is not appealing to a younger demographic. Football games on average last longer than baseball games. The difference amongst the two, action.
Critics are forgetting that a majority of the 18-34 demographic came of age during the steroid era. They have become conditioned into thinking that players hit 50, 60, and even 70 home runs in a season. While I am not advocating the use of illicit drugs in any way, shape, or form, you must realize that an entire generation of fans have been led to believe that is the norm.
The effects of growing up in the steroid era are only exacerbated by the fact that this “era” also happen to coincide with the multipurpose or “cookie-cutter” stadium era when teams employed the use of artificial turf. Instead of a simple base hit to right-center field, the ball hitting the turf could have resulted in a simple base hit taking an egregious bounce over an outfielder’s head. Singles would turn into doubles or triples, thus providing more action.
But, what if the aforementioned reasons are not the sole culprit. What if baseball, just so happens to be a victim of unintended consequences?
This “younger demographic” that baseball is trying to appeal to, also happened to grow up in the age of instant gratification. You want breaking news, you turn on your computer. You want to talk to your friends, you send them a text or instant message.
Advents such as the NFL RedZone from NFL Network and DirecTV’s Red Zone Channel have demonstrated that fans would rather watch only the scoring drives, as opposed to the entire game, which appears to have more commercials than actual game action.
“I hope I’m not overdramatizing, but it’s almost like every 30 seconds there’s breaking news,” Kent Camera, coordinating producer at NFL Network, told the New York Times in a 2011 report. “You could have a play that sets a record, a play that decides a game.”
Each network gives the fans exactly what they want, action.
“It’s changed the way I watch the N.F.L., in that RedZone is sometimes more entertaining than an actual game,” Troy Johnson of Maple Shade, N.J., told Lang Whitaker and Ian Lovett, in that same New York Times report.
As of this story’s posting, baseball is yet to introduce a comparable network, instead relying on highlight shows and whip around coverage to show fans notable plays during game time hours.
Moreover, baseball’s 162 game season lends the game to be more regionalized than the other major sports. In comparison, baseball does not have an extensive national television contract. Whereas the NBA or the NFL can be seen on CBS, NBC, ABC, TNT, ESPN, etc., baseball, at least on a national level, can only be seen on Fox or ESPN.
To combat this, many teams have signed lucrative regional television contracts, some of which even opting for their own regional network. What baseball might lack in national exposure, it makes up tenfold in regional coverage. It is for this reason, the regionalization of the game, that makes baseball appear unappealing to a national audience. If you live in Los Angeles, what are the chances you are going to watch a Saturday night game on FOX involving the Braves and the Mets, when Clayton Kershaw is scheduled to take the hill in less than an hour in San Francisco?
Many baseball fans romanticize the game, citing the nostalgia of their youth and wanting to pass that love on to future generations. The memoirs are often rich narratives in which the play-by-play announcer or color commentator is often the focus instead of the players involved. Fans, undoubtedly, would rather watch a game that features the comforting voice of their local play-by-play announcer or color commentator than a national crew they only hear sporadically.
There is no doubt that baseball needs to do more than affording players the opportunity to wear unique and colorful socks to appeal to a younger and ever-changing demographic. With commissioner Rob Manfred only having taken office in January 2015, it will be interesting to see the steps baseball takes to combat this perceived issue.
[Featured Image by David J. Phillip/AP Images]