Trying to get a younger generation more excited about baseball is not a new concern for the MLB. According to a USA Today article, the average age of the MLB’s fan base is 56. This is an astounding seven years older than the average NFL fan and 15 years older than the average NBA fan. There are many ideas circulating on how the MLB can make the sport more attractive to a younger fan base, many of which are pretty controversial. When you consider the MLB’s record of being historically slow to change, this problem seems even more impossible to confront. Of the ideas being discussed about how to reach a younger audience, there are three main suggestions.
First, some MLB experts argue for radical changes in the actual rules of the game. For example, starting every inning with a runner on first or batting five players every inning no matter what. Supporters argue that these rule changes will make the sport more fast paced and interesting to watch, as well as attract more kids to the sport when they are younger. This latter point is more important than it may seem. According to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, the biggest indicator of fan avidity for baseball is whether or not someone played it growing up. Because of this, Manfred is implementing a “Play Ball” initiative working with former players and others in the front office of the organization aiming to get more kids playing the sport at a young age. A second category of ideas are those in support of focusing on just changing rules dealing with the timing of the game, not the fundamental game rules. These ideas include limiting timeouts, time between pitches, and putting more restrictions on time in-between innings. Rules like these have already been implemented and have successfully cut the time of the game down on average six minutes and 7 seconds per game. But for a younger audience, is that really enough?
A third idea, however, might be the best option for the MLB to focus on – at least for now. This is making the game more accessible and interactive with a focus on integrating technology and social media into the game. The average age of fans watching games at home might be 56, but according to the same USA Today article, the average age of fans using the MLB “At Bat” app is 36. This is evidence that a younger fan base is out there and can be reached through efforts aimed at creating technology that makes the game more interactive and interesting for a younger generation of fans. The MLB might be starting to understand this. On March 30th, the MLB made a deal with Apple to put iPads in dugouts. These iPads use an app called “MLB Dugout” that provides teams with in depth analysis of statistics and scouting. This could be a step in the right direction for the MLB, especially if they want to keep up with other professional sports leagues like the NFL who had just made a deal with Microsoft to exclusively use their Surface Tablets on sidelines. Another emphasis on implementing social media into the game has been through Snapchat. The MLB hosted a “Snapchat Day” on March 11 where they suspended their rules on players using technology and allowed them to give fans an inside look on their day to day experience. Manfred also says the MLB will continue its use of Snapchat throughout the 2016 season.
The technology shift our world is experiencing is here and happening. The conversations that are being had about changing the rules of the game and the timing of it are good conversations but, in my opinion, the MLB can’t overlook how important it is to reach the younger fan base through technology. Even more importantly, knowing how slow to adapt the MLB normally is with rules and changes, they cannot afford to miss the technology shift and need to continue to make efforts to stay ahead of the game or at least up to date with it.
Elyse Ensor – Team 2