Purists, traditionalists and national-pastime enthusiasts may not want to hear it, but baseball is in trouble. In fact, baseball is in a lot of trouble.
But first, the positives.
Well, sort of.
“Baseball has turned into a completely parochial sport,” Yahoo! Sports MLB columnist Jeff Passan said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “You don’t find many baseball fans out there anymore. What you find is Giants fans and Royals fans and Yankees fans and Dodgers fans and Red Sox fans and Cubs fans and so on and so forth. The Phillies – they’re going to suck this year. The Braves are going to be pretty bad this year, too. The Diamondbacks and Rockies probably won’t be very good. (The) Twins, in all likelihood, are going to struggle. Maybe the Astros and Rangers fall into that category. But beyond that, you got a lot of teams that believe they can make the playoffs. It’s a pretty even game right now. That hope, that desire, it can be false and it can be misleading. But if you go into the year thinking your team has a shot, you’re probably a pretty happy fan.”
But what if you don’t identify with a particular team? What if you don’t live in a city that has a team? DA knows that he cannot open up the phone lines and ask listeners what the biggest challenge facing the Nationals is. He cannot ask listeners to assess the Astros’ offseason. These simply aren’t talking points for the average sports fan.
Why? Because most sports fans don’t care about baseball. Not enough to have an informed, insightful conversation about it, anyway.
While baseball insists it’s never been stronger – and there is support for that claim, at least locally – it’s never been weaker nationally.
“I don’t think there’s any question about that,” Passan said. “Baseball has to (do a better job marketing) – because baseball’s marketing right now is not good. If you go and look at it compared to the NBA, which is a star-making league, and the NFL, where the quarterbacks are always the stars, baseball has nothing. Who’s the last baseball player you saw in a commercial? I know it’s not the be-all, end-all of it, but it’s an honest question. Who’s the last baseball player you saw in a commercial? Baseball’s inability to market itself is far and away its greatest flaw right now. It’s a true problem.”
And it doesn’t seem to be getting better.
“You know what the average baseball fan is?” Passan asked. “It’s a 55-year-old white guy. Fifty-five might be light. I’m serious. Baseball’s demographic these days is the worst demographic you can possibly find for future growth. For present business, it’s not bad – because 55-year-old white men buy things. But for future growth, if that is your average consumer, your business is dead in 20 years. If you can tell me a single fact that you know about Mike Trout, I will be surprised. Like, a single non-baseball fact. And the idea that the best player in baseball – the best player we have seen in a long time (and) nothing is known about him – is a failure by baseball. And it’s one that I think it’s beginning to acknowledge.”