There’s Nothing Wrong with Baseball — Except the Production Values

The game of baseball itself is fine. There are other areas in which it can improve, though. (via U.S. Navy)

The prevailing opinion among baseball stalwarts is that the recent aesthetic changes in the game — namely, the increase of home runs, strikeouts and defensive shifts, and the decrease of hits and small-ball strategies such as the hit-and-run— have been bad. This reaction is to be expected. In nearly every era of baseball, players and commentators from previous eras have expressed displeasure with the changes they saw in the game. The current era’s baseball conservatives, though — those who would prefer the game to be played like it was for most of the 20th century — are pinning to these changes the fact that attendance is down and that baseball is attracting fewer and fewer young fans. Major League Baseball’s experimentation with banning the shift and moving back the pitcher’s mound would seem to suggest that even MLB believes that there is some validity to this connection.

Few seem to believe that the problem attracting younger fans may have nothing to do with the game at all. Home runs are fun, and there are more of them. Strikeouts are fun, and there are more of them, too. It seems at least likely that the problem baseball has with attracting new young fans is its production values.

The primary assumption from baseball conservatives is that prospective younger fans are noticing (and not liking) a historic spike in home runs and reduction of hits. For example, in a Bleacher Report article about “Why MLB Greats Think Baseball’s In Trouble,” after listing the number of ways the game has recently changed, author Scott Miller notes that “perhaps not coincidentally, per-game attendance…has dropped to its lowest point in 15 years.”

In fairness, many baseball critics also point to an increase in average game length, and a few are going so far as to correlate increased fastball velocity (in pursuit of strikeouts) as a reason why games are longer. But when one looks at the context of the per-game averages of these “historic” highs and lows, one may also notice that these changes are not as extreme as advertised. The reason for the focus on per-game averages is because that’s what casual fans watch — a game. They don’t watch stats, nor are they paying attention to a series of games like they’re an aggregate event. The past, present, and future of baseball rely on how much fans enjoy watching the individual event of a game.

A “new era” of baseball had its first notable impact in 2016, when the average number of home runs per game exceeded 1.15 for just the second time in history. And while it’s a relatively small sample size, 2016-2019 does indeed to be the beginning of a new home run era. From 1994 (the first season home runs per game cracked 1.00) through 2015, the average number of home runs per-game was 1.04. Since 2016 — and including pre-All Star break 2019 — it’s been 1.22. The average number of hits since 2011, when the use of the shift began to rise, has stood at 8.63. From 1994-2010 it was 9.13.

It would be naïve to assert that these are insignificant statistical changes, but it is also reactionary to assume that while watching a game, casual fans, young fans, and new fans are really noticing a 0.18 home run increase, or the reduction of half of a hit. Even the increase in game length isn’t appreciably drastic. Excluding extra-inning games, in 15 of the 20 years from 1994-2013, average game length took at least two hours, 50 minutes. The average length of a nine-inning game hit three hours for the first time in 2014, but has yet to exceed three hours, five minutes. Again, this is not an insignificant increase, but noticing the addition of 10 minutes of game time is generally the sort of thing that happens when one is bored or anxious, not when one is engaging in the experience of a new sport.

What prospective fans are assuredly more able to notice is the outdated presentation of the sport. Unless one is knowledgeable of the rules, the strategy, and the history, a baseball broadcast will look like a game of catch with 8.63 hits. This is barely hyperbole. Watch nearly any major league broadcast and you will hear mostly the following: narration of things that have already happened (“swing and a miss”) or that a viewer can see on the screen (balls and strikes), anecdotes from former players, news from around the league, and even discussions of things that have nothing to do with baseball.

The latter topics are exemplary of how many play-by-play and color commentators appear to be bored by the game. Some announcers even go so far as to passive-aggressively vent about their distaste for baseball’s changes. For example, in the bottom of the 10th of a July 7 Rangers vs. Twins game, Dick Bremer, the Twins play-by-play announcer, let fans know of a Twins defensive shift by saying, “Twins shift to a four-man (pause) five-man outfield. Whatever.” And of course, there was no explanation as to why the Twins made the switch.

Critically and unfortunately, this resistance to talking about the game, let alone accepting its changes, is often most noticeable during national ESPN broadcasts. During the July 14 Dodgers vs. Red Sox game, it appeared as though producers decided on topics to be addressed before the game even started. In the third inning Matt Vasgersian, Jessica Mendoza and Alex Rodriguez discussed Dodgers prospects and Alex Rodriguez’s marriage to Jennifer Lopez (who was shown on camera) more than any individual plate appearance. In the fourth inning, the topic was Fenway Park, complete with the background on Boston’s mascot, and information on ticket prices. The game seemed an afterthought. The pregame show for the July 21 broadcast included a feature where players tried to guess the meaning of acronyms like FIP, WOA, and UZR.

Sure, every sport has its share of “back in my day” voices, but baseball’s competitors are often sports that are so inherently action-packed that even when the communicators of the sport criticize, it may not matter to a prospective fan. Baseball is not one of them. It is difficult for new fans to recognize some of the most important aspects of the game without a little guidance and it should be no surprise that young people are bored by a game that they don’t understand. It seems unlikely that new fans are going to invest their time in baseball when the communicators debase the strategies and statistics and often aren’t interested enough to pay attention.

Going to baseball games further illustrates how little the sport seems to want to welcome new fans. At a recent Yankees vs. Rays game, the most current song played inside Tropicana Field (other than the players’ walk-up music) was an organ rendition of “Seven Nation Army,” which is a 16-year-old song. Even its use as a “fight song” is pushing a decade. In addition to the entertainment being outdated, there are some distinct disadvantages to outdoor stadiums (of which there are 23). Baseball is played in the hottest regions of the country during the hottest time of year, and outdoor stadiums are limited in the kinds of between-action entertainment they can muster.

If Major League Baseball is genuinely concerned about attracting new fans, these are the places it should start. Both baseball broadcasts and baseball stadiums desperately need to update the ways they engage with new fans. First, broadcasts need to do a better job explaining to a viewer the most important battle of the entire game: that between a hitter and pitcher. This confrontation is so important that Cubs manager Joe Maddon once said that the game could easily be called “pitching.” Yet, some broadcast crews often talk over entire plate appearances while barely acknowledging that a player has come to bat. Some of the most important insights are virtually non-existent: how a pitcher will attempt to approach a plate appearance based on his arsenal, the situation, and the batter’s strengths; predictions of what pitch will be used in a particular count and where it will be located, and how a previous plate appearance is affecting a current one.

Football would serve as a reasonable example of how a game should be narrated, in particular the way Tony Romo announces games. Romo does an excellent job explaining how defenses and offenses are set up and what a team is attempting to accomplish, and at times appears clairvoyant in his ability to call plays before they happen. He is fun, engaging, and — importantly — willing to talk about plays in non-football speak.

Attendance may also be improved by updating in-game entertainment, and coming to terms with a likely reality that all stadiums will soon need to be domed. As for the former, baseball can look to the NBA as a model of how to reach younger fans: playing more hip-hop, pop, and other contemporary music — including music that is popular with the nationalities that are largely represented in baseball. Other ideas: updating light/laser shows, investing in 3D projection technology, and increasing the number of ways fans can use augmented reality, Twitter, Snapchat, and/or Instagram before, during, and after the game.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

It’s time to accept that younger fans will need a little more than the game to get them to buy a ticket and travel to a ballpark. The American entertainment industry, from musicians to movie theaters have had to figure out how to market their product to a generation of individuals who have more ways to spend their disposable income, but less disposable income to spend. A recent Merrill Lynch report found that Americans aged 18-34 collectively hold about $2 trillion dollars’ worth of student loan, credit card, mortgage, and car payment debt. Young adults are also saving money at record rates. Baseball’s decline was probably inevitable, but maintaining even the status quo will take some work.

A big boost to these efforts would be making all stadiums domed, whether it be entirely, partially, or with a retractable roof. For a variety of reasons, it is much easier to create a spectacle of light and sound indoors, and it is a much more comfortable environment for fans. It should not be overlooked that the past decade has seen a succession of record-breaking summer temperatures in regions where many teams play. Granted, there is no empirical evidence for this, but isn’t it possible that young fans are not excited about sitting in 90-degree heat to watch a game that they barely understand, all while listening to music that was made before they were born, and watching hot dog mascots race each other? Does that need a chart?

At the ballpark, even in open-air stadiums, event coordinators need to play a lot more contemporary music in between innings, and in-between away-team plate appearances (home players have their own entrance music). They could borrow from NBA games and show, on the Jumbotron, pictures from the game that fans have posted on Twitter and Instagram. They could hold special events in which fans are allowed on the field to take advantage of the Instagram-ability of that field as well as the dugout. Stadiums could even begin using augmented reality platforms to get fans to walk around the stadium. And of course, following U.S. Cellular Park’s lead, stadiums could also make fireworks more than just a “Friday night home game” type of thing. Indoor baseball stadiums will be even better equipped to use new projection technology and put more effort into creating a concert-type atmosphere.

There are even improvements that can address pace of play and the home run spike (which is attracting the ire of even progressive baseball outlets like FanGraphs). As for the latter, outfield fence distances merely have to be 400 feet at center and 325 feet at the foul poles, a regulation put into place in 1958 (and a few stadiums don’t even meet those standards). The median average distance for home run hitters in 2019 is 399 feet. We are seeing the strongest and most skilled home run hitters in the game’s history hit home runs over walls that were regulated 60 years ago. Additionally — as the aforementioned FanGraphs article points out — there is mounting evidence that the ball at the major league (as well as the Triple-A) level is “juiced.” This could be remedied.

As for average game length, the league’s first three-hour per-game average coincided with the first season of expanded replay, which is likely not a coincidence. Currently, even though replays are viewed and decided upon at an office in New York, fans still have to endure every umpire running off the field to wait for a verdict. Why? Can MLB simply hire more umpires to watch games at the Replay Command Center so they are able to anticipate when a challenge may occur and make a quicker decision? Can a crew chief also be equipped with an earpiece so that decision can be easily relayed without requiring all umpires to walk off the field?

On television, commentators could work through a fairly standard process to keep fans aware of what’s happening. When a hitter comes to the plate, commentary can focus on his strengths, weaknesses, tendencies, and if he is on a notable hot streak. They should even be able to work in how the pitcher will likely approach this hitter and whatever the situation might be. Then, a prediction of where the next pitch will go and what it will be. Then, by the time a pitcher gets into his windup, silence. After the pitch is delivered, depending on what type of pitch it was, where it went, whether it was a ball or strike, and whether the batter swung, commentators can discuss whether that pitch and location will be repeated, or whether the pitcher will try something different. Additionally, commentators can let fans know if a batter will be looking for the same pitch or whether he will prepare for something different. In addition to these details, subsequent plate appearances will be able to include insight about how previous plate appearances impact the current one.

Increased awareness of the devastating effects of concussions in recent years has had a significant impact on the number of kids playing contact sports, particularly football. Baseball’s relative safety and need for less equipment make it an appealing alternative to football — and, indeed, the specter of CTE may be partially responsible for the concurrent drop in youth football enrollment and rise in youth baseball enrollment that we’ve seen over the past few years. Baseball currently has an opportunity better than any since the rise of the NFL to capitalize on the youth market.

Still, when it came down to it, Kyler Murray chose football over baseball — and an increased risk of getting CTE — because he loves the game of football. Major League Baseball should want the next Kyler Murray to love baseball. Baseball can help accomplish this by using broadcasts to offer insight into the intricacies that have made fans like me such avid appreciators of its cruel beauty. The next Kyler Murray may also enjoy being in a stadium that is designed to speak to his sense of fun.


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3cardmontymember
3 years ago

Definitely agree that broadcasters engaging in off-topic banter is supremely obnoxious. It’s why I usually choose the radio feed on mlbtv. Also agree that all the hand-wringing over less balls in play is completely overblown. Really don’t see the between-innings music choices as being very important to anyone. Ultimately you’re paying to watch the game, all the other stuff is just to occupy your attention during breaks. I’d think that if teams really cared about attracting younger fans to the park they’d maybe stop the absurd price gouging for beer and food.

drewsylvaniamember
3 years ago
Reply to  3cardmonty

And tickets. It used to be you could actually (gasp!) get tickets at face value. MLB is killing itself with their hypocritical self-scalping.

Lanidrac
3 years ago
Reply to  3cardmonty

The price gouging on food isn’t a big issue for stadiums that let you bring in your own (with reasonable exceptions).

Spahn_and_Sain
3 years ago
Reply to  3cardmonty

Shorten the ad break by 30 seconds each time and you shave off 8-1/2 minutes from game time right there while also needing less attention-holding interim entertainment.

Spahn_and_Sain
3 years ago
Reply to  Spahn_and_Sain

Also, the comment in the article about Replay Reviews is also exactly right. It’s pretty obvious when a review might be coming and there’s no reason why the “guys in New York” shouldn’t be able to get ahead of that and to render a decision on most cases within about 15 seconds of the review actually being announced (also, they should announce what has been challenged and what is being reviewed so the fans in the stadium and commenters aren’t left fumbling for an explanation. The idea of just leaving it as dead air time is so, so dumb).

Lanidrac
3 years ago

I certainly hate it when TV announcers interview someone for an entire inning while barely paying attention to the game, and you have some points about better strategic commentary and faster replays, but baseball is NOT a concert, and it should NOT be treated as such!

Baseball has been and always will be best played outdoors. Closing the roof in ballparks that have them is only a backup plan for bad weather or excessive heat, otherwise the roofs wouldn’t be retractable at all. Most fans don’t care about the summer heat as long as it doesn’t get too unbearable.

Why do baseball games need contempary music or even oldies hits at all? Aside from the National Anthem(s) and “God Bless America,” you just play baseball music at a baseball game like “Charge,” “We Will Rock You,” and of course “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” (plus some regional songs like “Roll Out the Barrel,” “Deep in the Heart of Texas,” and the Budweiser Theme). Nobody cares how old those songs are, and most fans don’t need any more music than that. For between inning entertainment, we have prefectly good stuff like mascot antics, cap dances, kiss cams, blooper reels, trivia games, and of course the 7th Inning Stretch.

More fireworks would be good, but a laser light show would just be ridiculous. Meanwhile, stuff like Instagram photos (which aren’t that exciting, anyway) are just as easily displayed on a traditional jumbotron as they would be on one of those tacky NBA style hanging things from the top of a dome. Also, MLB rules prohibit fans from entering the field at any point of the game, even between innings.

DBall
3 years ago
Reply to  Lanidrac

Baseball like a concert is ENTERTAINMENT, if you want the sport to survive as a mainstream sport for the next few decades they will need to adapt to what a new generation wants to watch and how they want to watch it.

Baseball can easily be played outdoors with a retractable roof when its nice and comfortable outside but its undisputed fact that temperatures are increasing and there are less and less days through the year with comfortable outdoor weather. Baseball is filled with billionaire owners who can easily afford an extra 50-100million to add retractable roofs to all new stadiums.

While I’m a millennial who likes baseball for baseball and would be fine with no changes (pssst im the exception), I have numerous friends who consider going to a game to be boring because of the lack of “action” between pitches/innings and how the things that they do like kiss cams, blooper reels and trivia games are now “old” and overdone and are not interactive for more than a few fans, remember their are a lot of baseball games and a few gimmicks get old quickly. You are providing great reasons for why baseball cant attract younger fans, they have different values than you so you cant filter the experience through your intellectual lens and expect them to consume entertainment the same way you do.

*Hot Take* You mentioned the only 2 pieces of music that should immediately be eliminated from all sporting events, National Anthems and “God Bless America”. Baseball is caught between catering its experience to its current older audience and wanting to attract young fans but doing nothing to actually attract them.

This doesn’t even delve into the fact that most millennials, me included, have never and probably wont ever have cable which means local teams are unwatchable due to blackouts for younger audiences.

Baseballs rigid and often made up traditionalism (baseball used to change rules and experiences quite often to keep it current and entertaining from its inception through the 1960s) is the biggest hurdle it has to overcome to stay relevant and mainstream going forward.

Lanidrac
3 years ago
Reply to  DBall

It’s a completely different kind of entertainment, so you have to treat it differently. Not even the younger generation cares about stuff like contemporary pop music at sporting events. Even the “overdone gimmicks” are more entertaining than that. (What could possibly do in the 20 seconds between pitches, anyway?) Baseball remains mainstream by not making itself extremely tacky just to please a few Millenials who aren’t likely to become real fans anyway.

Retractable roofs are only necessary in certain locations. In most places, the heat cools down at night and is only unbearable for a very small percentage of the games. The aesthetics are much better with a fully open stadium when geography deems it possible.

Yes, get rid of “God Bless America,” but the National Anthem is necessary to show patriotism now more than ever. It’s also denotes that the game is still America’s Pastime.

The issues with TV have nothing to do with the subject. Complain about that on a different article. Although, I will say that real sports fans (who can afford it) are willing to shell out for cable or satelite TV just to be able to watch their favorite teams on a regular basis.

DBall
3 years ago
Reply to  Lanidrac

I’d have to disagree, musical accompaniment has a lot to do with the feeling of engagement and excitement. Watch your favorite movie/theater scenes but change the music to something random and it can very easily lose the feel or remove the music and the scene will just die. The right music can very much put one in a better or more excitable mood to be more engaged. All entertainment is about engaging your senses and the better coordinated that engagement the more entertaining things tend to be.

Different generations will have different music/sounds that it associates with different emotional states so if baseball wants to attract younger fans it needs to start at least partly catering the music/sounds that they play to that younger audience. No that doesn’t mean they start blasting contemporary pop music all the time but they need to start working in more current music besides players walk-up songs. Next time you go to a game identify a bunch of younger fans in their 20s to 30s and watch them when certain hip-hop/rap/pop music gets played as a walk-up song and you’ll notice the increased “head-bobing”, swaying and singing along. I don’t think I’ve ever typed engaging/engagement/engaged more in a single comment before.

Does this mean changing the music/sounds will make all young people flock to baseball games? Of course not, but small changes add up to a more exciting overall experience that will leave people with a better overall impression.

As I stated before I’m not a typical fan for my age bracket but having been to hundreds of baseball games in my life I can tell you that I would love it if I never had to hear “Charge” or “We will Rock You” at a sporting event ever again. Overdone does not begin to describe the absurdity of how they seemingly cant come up with new ways to get fans to cheer randomly so they just keep repeating the same thing over and over and over and over….

DBall
3 years ago
Reply to  Lanidrac

Considering the article is about engaging younger fans and how the broadcasts work id say the issues with TV is very much relevant and its quite amusing how you call it irrelevant but still have to get a jab in their about how “real” sports fans should engage with the sport. Whatever a “real” sports fan is.

Signed,

Fake sports fan.

Famous Mortimer
3 years ago
Reply to  Lanidrac

Out of interest, why play the national anthem at a domestic sporting event? I could understand if it was team USA playing team Mexico, or whatever.

Spahn_and_Sain
3 years ago
Reply to  Lanidrac

“God Bless America” can go right out the window. It’s a tragedy that Miller Park made time for that in the 7th inning stretch by taking away the “One More Time…” reprise of “Roll out the Barrel.”

TimBasuinomember
3 years ago

Great article, apart of course from the dome stadium suggestion. Definitely agree that the in-game interviews are obnoxious.

Famous Mortimer
3 years ago
Reply to  TimBasuino

Last time I went to a game in 90+ degree heat, the bleacher seats were literally impossible to sit on, so hot were they. I just didn’t bother going again til it cooled down. Why the opposition to domes?

Barney Coolio
3 years ago

Where was that?

Famous Mortimer
3 years ago
Reply to  Barney Coolio

Busch.

coldbagel12member
3 years ago

You make some good points, like having more broadcasters that know and use advanced stats and dejuicing the ball, but requiring every stadium to be a dome is unnecessary, the music is fine, baseball teams already put social media posts on the Jumbotron during games, and idle banter by the broadcast team is not a bad thing. Some of my favorite moments of watching or listening to a game are when the broadcaster tells a good story, or has a good interview. Do you really want every at bat to be a rehashing of the exact same list of each batter’s weaknesses? That would be dull.

Spahn_and_Sain
3 years ago
Reply to  coldbagel12

Good banter is good, bad banter is awful. Generally, I think the radio broadcasters do a better job with their asides (I may be biased listening mostly to one of the best racounteurs, Bob Uecker to listen to) because they need to stay connected to the play-by-play as well.

jarhead659
3 years ago

Andrew, you’re right – or at least moving in the right direction – and I’m old. The responses you’ve gotten are the responses of long-time baseball fans and reflect nothing more than their desire for status quo (excepting announcers…). They don’t go to NBA games, or probably don’t even watch them, they have no understanding of what young people want for their entertainment dollar. Maybe someone in MLB will read this and actually think about the things you’ve discussed – I hope so. Great article.

drewsylvaniamember
3 years ago
Reply to  jarhead659

I’m 43 and even I know that the game has a problem appealing to young fans. I think it can be done in a way that both older fans (minus a few curmudgeons) and young fans can enjoy it. Make the changes enjoyable.

liljaycup
3 years ago
Reply to  drewsylvania

It’s not just the NBA, either. I’m a hockey and baseball fan, and my best friend has only just started to watch hockey. And he’s amazed at the differences in broadcasts and game experiences. For one, take a look at the access offered to fans during the run up to the stadium series (with road to the winter classic coverage) and even the freaking playoffs!

I’m a fan of the Blues and Cardinals, and one of the reasons the Blues winning a championship this year matters so much more to me than any Cardinals win is because I felt like I knew the team in a more intimate way than I have with any Cardinals championship club. My friend and I talk about this all the time, and it drives us crazy–why the heck aren’t there more cameras and microphones in the clubhouse? In the training rooms?

And the NHL has been fortunate to get jarred out of their in-arena malaise with expansion clubs and growing markets. The Vegas Knights really put everyone else to shame with their production values, aside from maybe the Nashville Predators, who have embraced their community’s culture in a way that should be admired. They’ve also developed unique chants to yell after goals, by shouting the goalie’s name over and over in a taunting way, then “YOU SUCK,” and finishing with three refrains of, “It’s all your fault!” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P8r0XmNOMrg And the Hurricanes have recently taken to post-game choreographed celebrations, sometimes including area production in the gags. It shouldn’t be missed that these examples are all from newer teams in the league.

Baseball, like football, is still so focused on creating cookie-cutter experiences. If I watch another team’s broadcast, I can count on hearing the same stories, analysis, and play by play that I get on my own team’s broadcast. And if I go to another ballpark, it’s the same deal. That’s just downright crazy. I want watching a game, in person or on TV, to be an EXPERIENCE. That doesn’t mean turning it into a gimmick, but it does mean embracing and exaggerating the uniqueness of your city, fans, and team. And no, interviewing a local restaurant owner isn’t what I’m talking about.

I’m glad you wrote this, because I was starting to think I was crazy. Let’s all take a moment to marvel at Korean baseball for their incredible productions and start to ask ourselves, “why isn’t MLB doing even 1/4 of that??”

mcbruster
3 years ago

As someone just getting into baseball I agree with your article, especially the points you made about broadcasters discussing the strategies of the game. I listen to the games on the at bat radio app and the commenters do a good job explaining some of the strategy on the field, but i am regularly googling terms and stats I do not understand. Do not get me wrong my enjoyment of the game is enhanced from the learning aspect (i.e. listening to podcasts, reading articles, and etc about baseball strategy). But it really is a barrier to entry if fans have to do too much leg work. I am in my early 30s and have plenty of neccessary things that take up my attention that supersede learning about baseball in importance. Before anyone says something akin to that this research is expected and the fan must pay their dues, remember entertainment is easy now. With plenty of streaming options, youtube channels, and video game systems it would not hurt to easing how new fans learn the strategies of the game and the important stats.

So to end this long winded statement to the ether. I agree with your statements Andrew and enjoyed reading your article.

drewsylvaniamember
3 years ago
Reply to  mcbruster

100%. The broadcasts could easily make this easier. Explain a different stat every game, for instance. Or at a minimum tell folks they can find a more detail explanation of a stat at (shortened hyperlink).

Lanidrac
3 years ago
Reply to  mcbruster

Well, they don’t have to go so far as to use advanced stats, just discuss strategy more in easy to understand terms.

vslykemember
3 years ago

Increasing the volume and turning baseball into a version of Galaxy Bowling is going to turn off the best current customers (the older generation tends not to respond well to over stimulation) and do little to bring in young customers. Instead, baseball should look to musical theater, which has boomed by letting new voices express themselves in ways that would have been unthinkable 30 years ago. The “Let the Kids Play” initiative is on the right path, but needs some of the older voices in the game to move out of the way.

Brendan
3 years ago

I agree on the announcers — particularly the ESPN crew seem to be bystanders who are only mildly and occasionally interested in the game. Maybe this mimics the casual fan well enough, who knows? The local teams seem to be a bit better in many cases, but not always. There are exceptions (a few recent sessions where Joe Girardi was the color commentator were quite good and closer to the Romo-esque way of doing things).

As for the commentary on the live experience, ugh. I guess at this point I’m becoming irrelevant as someone who is middle-aged, but those kinds of changes will just drive me away from the sport, and it’s pretty much the only one that I still follow for many of the same reasons. If the sport feels the need to make those kind of changes to try to appeal to younger generations, that’s fine, go ahead and do it — but it will have an impact on the enthusiasm of people like me (and there are quite a few of us) who will simply become less engaged with the sport overall as a result. Again, it is probably best for baseball to ignore older fans from a business standpoint, and I get that, but that will also have an impact on what is today its core audience, and pretending that it will not is simply an exercise in wishful thinking.

manormachine
3 years ago

The more old farts complain about this article, the more I believe that it is spot on.

Announcers need to be positive about the way baseball is played today and make an effort to explain it to fans while being entertaining.

Don’t be distracted by the “laser show” throwaway idea, domed stadiums will be a necessity in the future because of climate change.

The 18 to 35 demographic is economically screwed and doesn’t have a lot of money to spend on baseball, especially with the high cost of living in the urban areas where most teams are located. Prices need to come down. I’d love to go to the park with friends on a weekday night and toss back beers and have fun for a few hours. I don’t want to spend $200 bucks doing it.

drewsylvaniamember
3 years ago
Reply to  manormachine

You bring up a good point. For better or worse, younger folk want to drink all night. Hard to want to do that when crappy beer is $8.

Devern Hansack
3 years ago
Reply to  drewsylvania

Living in Denver, part of the reason why the Rockies have such consistently high attendance is because of reasonable ticket prices, a bar area within the stadium, and proximity to nightlife. Reduced cost / improved concessions would also be a way to get more fans to the park, and getting people there will help convert casuals.

Spahn_and_Sain
3 years ago
Reply to  manormachine

Not belittling the impact of climate change, but I don’t think the average baseball experience is so terribly affected that it domes “will be a necessity.” In the US, high temperature rises have been on the scale of 3° F over the last 50 years or .6° F per decade. For a sedentary activity, that’s not overly impactful.
People go to baseball games in part to enjoy the summer weather, overall domes have more impact on attendance by making rainy and chilly (April/October) games more comfortable than they do making summer days more air conditioned. I do think more stadia should consider overhanging sunshades for the upper decks similar to European soccer stadia, though.

drewsylvaniamember
3 years ago

Great, great piece. I think the biggest win–and easiest change to make–would be broadcasters that actually care and a production that involves talking about the fine points of the game. It is a very complicated sport to learn if you aren’t trying to play it–and if you don’t understand a sport or learn the intricacies, there’s less appreciation for it.

wroehl
3 years ago

I agree that baseball may well be its own worst enemy. I’m old enough (60) to remember how old timers in the 70s and 80s bad mouthed the players of the day. And old enough to see the irony of guys who played in the 70s and 80s bad mouthing today’s players exactly the same way. So there seems to be something inherent in baseball that makes today’s game never as good as the remembered game of one’s youth.

Where I potentially disagree is with the issue of attendance. First, there is a lot of evidence that attendance figures, both today and in the past, may represent a certain level of creative accounting.

But more importantly, in today’s environment of revenue management and dynamic pricing, I’m not sure that total attendance is a useful metric. Unfortunately, attendance is publicly available, while revenue is not. Remember, selling 100 units at $10 each generates more revenue than selling 110 units at $9 each. And if some of those 100 units are prime seats when the Yankees (or whomever) come to town, maybe that raises the average seat price to $11 or $12, further increasing revenue.

TLDR; I think gross attendance numbers might be a negotiating ploy, similar to the need to contract teams back in the 90s, since gross attendance today doesn’t necessarily line up with revenue.

mgwalker
3 years ago

The single greatest thing that baseball has going for it, pastime-wise, is that it is played outside on grass, increasingly with pleasant views of the surrounding city. This is why most attendees at baseball games are families (what are the fractions of female attendees at NFL, NBA, MLB games?). Unless the team is a contender, people go to the ballpark largely because it’s a nice place to spend a summer evening, providing a picnic-like atmosphere.

Covering that up with a dome and drowning it out with a laser light show is a step in the wrong direction.

DMatamember
3 years ago

Biggest thing for me is the directing of the TV broadcasts. I just don’t want to see nonstop close-ups of dudes’ faces while they chew gum or spit sunflower seeds. The College World Series had an alternate broadcast on the ESPN app where the camera would default to a view of the field and occasionally take advantage of a camera on the umpire. It was great.

Knocking on the ESPN Sunday crew is low-hanging fruit, but they are truly horrible.

Also, I believe you missed a word in this sentence: “And while it’s a relatively small sample size, 2016-2019 does indeed to be the beginning of a new home run era.”

evo34
3 years ago
Reply to  DMata

Agree, esp with the unnecessary closeups. Let’s not forget the way ESPN manually increases the volume on every pitch, to make sure that a routine grounder sounds like 600 foot bomb.

Werthlessmember
3 years ago

A big challenge for baseball, and why baseball announcers struggle following the Romo model, is that baseball seasons are 10 times as long. The challenge to fill the air time with “new” material is one that makes commenting on a baseball game more difficult than a football game. If a football announcer repeats his observations about strategy (X coach likes to go for it on 4th down), it’s only somewhat noticeable. If a baseball player makes the same observation at 10x the frequency, he’s going to be tuned out.

Fortunately, there is a ton of content/stats available to a creative broadcast team, so while I believe it’s a challenging problem, it’s also a surmountable one. Andrew’s comments about focusing the pitching matchup is the solution, in my opinion, since the number of batter/pitcher combinations/situations that occur within the game are diverse enough to drive a lot of conversation. “X player has groundball tendencies, and had a GP last AB on the pitcher’s changeup. Pitcher likes to use a high fastball late in the count. Count is 2-2. Let’s see if he goes back to the changeup to get a grounder, or goes for the strikeout up in the zone. Ball, up in the zone. Batter laid off, although he has swung at 30% of fastballs up out of the zone thus far this season.”

The prep work for commentary would be different, obviously, but I think casual fans and serious fans alike would appreciate that type of broadcast.

jarhead659
3 years ago
Reply to  Werthless

Just as an aside, Brian Anderson, the Rays color guy, does exactly that several times a game, for several batters at a time, and it is enjoyable, and I do learn. Obviously he can’t do it 70 times a game, and as the article quoted Joe Madden, you could call the game “pitching’. So even with the occasional breakdown of what several batters are looking for and where their heat zones are combined with what the pitcher throws, why, and what he will try to do next, there is a lot of time between pitches where even the best announcing teams struggle to stay relevant and engaged. Broadcasting 150+ games in 6 months isn’t for the faint at heart!

Devern Hansack
3 years ago

I think this is pretty spot on. Another idea I’ve had in the back of my mind for a while is encouraging fan engagement via supporter sections with chants, songs, instruments, like in soccer. There’s not much atmosphere in the sport today, which makes it feel a bit sterile.

Lanidrac
3 years ago
Reply to  Devern Hansack

You must’ve never experienced a good Wave.

Bryzmember
3 years ago
Reply to  Lanidrac

There’s never a good Wave.

shampain
3 years ago
Reply to  Devern Hansack

I came here to post this exact thing. Go to a game in Japan, Korea, or Latin America and the atmosphere is electric because the fans are participating, not just observing.

Psychic... Powerless...
3 years ago

Despite what the first paragraph suggests, it is possible to feel baseball is trending in a negative direction without being “conservative” or resistant to change.

Personally, I embrace defensive shifts and don’t miss sub-optimal strategies such as bunting and hit-and-runs. But compared to when I was a kid (mid-70s), games are significantly longer (40%+) and have fewer balls in play, fewer base runners and fewer defensive plays — in other words, longer games with less action and less variety.

Also, regarding strikeouts being fun: In a big situation? Absolutely. 20+ times a game? IMO, no.

stevemillburg
3 years ago

I’m 65, and I absolutely agree that you’re on the right track. The biggest problem with the announcers is that they themselves seem to find the game boring, so they cast about for something more entertaining to talk about. Hence the lame banter, “back in my day” rants, interviews with promoters of local charity events, etc. Radio announcers for many, maybe even most teams don’t even mention each pitch anymore, which used to be (and still should be) an absolute requirement. If the announcers (TV and radio) actually let themselves (or made themselves) get caught up in the ebb and flow of the game itself, the minidramas of tension and release inherent in each pitch and each at-bat, that by itself would go a long way toward getting viewers/listeners interested.

It may seem paradoxical, but I also agree on the need for more and better entertainment during lulls in the action. The reason is that there are a lot more such lulls than there used to be. Watch video of a game from the 1970s, and you’ll see batters standing in the batter’s box, not once stepping out, during entire at-bats. In 1970, teams averaged 2.66 pitchers per game. Today: 4.27. Time between innings has stretched out interminably to accommodate TV commercials. A brisk rendition of “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree” on the organ might have adequately passed the time in my younger days, but things are different now.

Famous Mortimer
3 years ago

I think hardcore fans doubting that event X or event Y will not cause any fan to switch off is just as blinkered as anything else you said in this (mostly excellent) article. Of course, no-one’s going “well, this was 0.35 more strikeouts per game than a year ago” but there’s a drip-drip-drip effect that is manifestly causing fewer people to go to baseball games. Every time someone leaves a baseball game vaguely bored at what they perceive as a lack of interesting action, it makes them that little bit less likely to go to another.

Which is why baseball lifers and hardcore fans are often the wrong people to decide how best to present it to a new generation, because they don’t seem to see there’s a problem in the first place.

I completely agree about in-game presentation, though. I’m relatively new to baseball (I’m English, 43, and have been watching baseball for ten years) and, say, whenever I heard old-timey announcer X do a game, I wouldn’t be thinking “wow, he’s been doing this for so many decades”, I’d often think “I wish someone who liked the game a bit more and had some energy was commentating”. More often than not, I turn the commentary off altogether and just have ballpark sound, but if I was a kid and listening to some guy in his 70s tell me about how much better the players of the generation before my birth were, I’d perhaps think “why am I paying to watch this team, then?”

Teams should offer different commentary. I would love to be able to switch to a younger, more stat-savvy commentary team than the same old “pitchers went all 9 innings much more often in my day” crap from retired players who seem completely unwilling to give any context to why teams behave differently these days.

evo34
3 years ago

Agree. I’m 48 and have always followed baseball — but I no longer attend games. As recently as 5 years ago, I would typically attend 2-3 games a year. Trying to think of why this is the case, a few things come to mind (some general, some more specific to my taste):

1) It’s much easier to follow the action on TV. With HD TV, K Zone, etc., you can really observe the finer points of what is happening in the game, which is nearly impossible from 80% of the seats in a MLB stadium.

2) All the stepping out of the box and stalling is boring. People can defend it all they want, but it’s not worth it to lock into a game with full attention when you have no idea if you’re about to see a 5 second pause or endure a 30-second delay.

3) It is a hassle to get to the park. Even in large urban areas, taking an hour subway ride packed in like sardines is not appealing after a certain stage of life.

4) The main appeal of attending a live event is that you get to appreciate the absurd power and speed on the field and also the sound/vibration of 50,000 people in attendance. For baseball, however, most seats do not allow you to really experience the energy that you might be able to in a mediocre seat at a NBA or NHL game.

5) The crowd is dead. There is a feedback effect where the more bored fans are, the more it causes nearby fans to lose intensity. At most baseball games, there is not a feeling of, “This is important. I need to lock in.” It could be just me, but I think 10-15 years ago, this feeling was more prevalent when watching good teams.

Spahn_and_Sain
3 years ago
Reply to  evo34

It would make a lot of sense for MLB to provide a ‘lite’ version of the pitch tracker from Gameday that followed the game live and put it on a simple site like TeamName.com/strikezone. I know all the info is there for the viewing in AtBat, but the app is much better for following along in a dedicated way rather than for a quick check, as it reloads frequently and you have to go through a series of screens to see what you want.

Anon
3 years ago

An additional problem is broadcasters who are out of touch with the changes in the game. I’ll watch the MLB Network from time to time and they will trot out Bob Costas and Jim Kaat. Costas is fine, but Kaat spends the entire broadcast referencing players, coaches and other figures from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Guys he played with and against. That’s great if the fan is 70 and knows who Sam McDowell is, but you aren’t drawing in any younger fans with references that are obscure to the average fan. I mean, I know who Sam McDowell is, but the average fan doesn’t and moreover, doesn’t care. Then you have broadcasters like Bob Brenly who bemoan the new stats and consistently play up the massive importance of advance scouts because they will notice something like the pitcher throws 1st pitch fastballs a lot. It’s like he has absolutely no clue that those kinds of things are captured in the stats now.

chrlud64
3 years ago

Baseball is not declining in popularity and attendance because it isn’t hip and cool or politically correct or is difficult to understand and boring. If sports like football and basketball need all these bells and whistles to attract fans then that probably means that what’s happening on the field or court probably isn’t very exciting (and it isn’t). The only reason for the declining attendances is the prohibitive costs of attending or viewing a game. From the outrageous price of tickets to the even more outlandish cost of parking, concessions and merchandise to the constant rising costs of tv subscriptions, baseball has put itself beyond the financial means of most average Americans, even in a strong economy. In other words, greed. As baseball is currently constituted, the cost of attending games now greatly outweighs the benefits. Customers are leaving in droves. That is a poor business model in anyone’s book. Whether baseball ever admits to this or honestly assesses their problem is anyone’s guess, but I would seriously bet against it. Baseball, like other major sports, has long ago ceased genuinely caring about their fans, despite their lip service to the contrary. We’re treated like a bunch of serfs who don’t know what’s good for us and if we say otherwise we’re denounced as “stalwarts” or “purists” or “conservatives” by their mouthpieces in the media. If anyone doubts any of this, all I can say is that baseball was much more popular 40-50 years ago, when I started following it as a kid, than it is now. I didn’t need any hip and cool “walk-up” music and fight songs or bat flipping or fist pumping to watch. I just love the game, no matter how it’s played.

evo34
3 years ago

“NBA as a model of how to reach younger fans: playing more hip-hop, pop, and other contemporary music — including music that is popular with the nationalities that are largely represented in baseball. ”

No. Have you been to an NBA game lately? They’re cranking random music louder than any cheering could get, and it’s *during* each possession, a la some crappy indoor soccer game in the ’80s. So aggravating. No one suddenly cranks up his stereo when watching at home for each possession, do they?

The NBA has many advantages over baseball in terms of entertainment value, but blowing out eardrums with artificial sound while the game is live is not one of them.

More broadly, you seem to think that light and sound sideshows are the answer for baseball. They are not. The game itself has very little action compared to most sports. I don’t think distracting people with light/sound shows is going to do much if people are not that interested in the core product.

Basically, you are suggesting marginalizing the actual game even more than it already has been by announcers who tell 20-minute stories while ignoring the actual game. I agree 100% with your characterization of announcers’ talking points — I actually had to turn off that Fenway Park info-merical inning on ESPN — but the goal should be to make the game more compelling, not more of a sideshow to some larger “experience.”

Barney Coolio
3 years ago

Most of my live game watching has been in: San Diego, San Francisco, and Washington DC, with a smattering of games elsewhere. Definitely not: Dallas, Cincinnati, Atlanta, or other sweltering, muggy hotspots.

But I think that “every stadium should be domed” is a bad idea. Expensive, and takes too much charm from the game.

ryanredsoxmember
3 years ago

As a teenager, and admittedly already diehard baseball fan, the suggestions for the in stadium experience sounds like a baseball experience from hell. I don’t need a light show to be entertained. I just need the damn prices to be lower. I live 40 minutes from a Major League team, for two people to get to the stadium, park, eat, and attend the game is easily a $100 day. That’s is the number one reason I have yet to go to a Major League game this year. Watching the game from home for free or attending a MiLB game for fraction of the price is just better value.

stonepie
3 years ago
Reply to  ryanredsox

with pirated streams, AC, and advancements in TV technology (at a digestible price), why even leave home?

ohioscott
3 years ago

Many of the things in this article if implemented may very well bring younger fans to the ballpark, but would probably drive away many of the 40+ year old fans that are coming now. And less face it those are the fans who can afford most of the gouged resale ticket and crazy concession prices to begin with.

Baseballs problem with younger fans is three-fold…
1) Inner-city kids are not playing baseball because they do not have the space or the money for equipment to do so. That is why basketball is king in the inner-cities across America.
2) Even the suburban kids have moved away from baseball the past few decades because of things like soccer, skateboarding, and just plain gaming indoors.
3) The MLB has done a poor job marketing it’s product for television and some of the things in this article could help that. But baseball is never going to be as exciting for TV as the NFL or NBA for casual sports fan.

…Baseball is a statistical game that requires knowledge and patience. When I watch games on TV half of the young people I see at the games either have their faces in their phone, or are talking to one another and once in awhile look up at the game when the crowd gives them a reason to do so.

I’m not sure what the answer is to get kids back to playing baseball, but I would start with supplying inner-city youth leagues with equipment (and some of that is happening), so parents do not have cost as a prohibitive. I would also pour money into making college baseball more visible to fans of those schools who go nuts over football and basketball. They could also promote a college only player draft that gets fans excited to see their schools players get drafted.

Morlandmember
3 years ago

Suggestions to improve the game
1. Don’t let batters step out of the batter’s box
2. Make pitchers throw the ball within ten seconds of receiving it.
3. Don’t let announcers bitch about the changes in the game
4. Don’t let announcers claim the players aren’t as good as they used to be. I recall one all-star game where Bob Costas and Joe Morgan were bitching that no one was as good as Willie Mays. Well duh!
5. If the announcers don’t like it they can find another job.

Spahn_and_Sain
3 years ago
Reply to  Morland

4. Obligatory Mike Trout comp:

Mays ’51-’52, ’54-’60 / Trout 11-’19 (as of 04 Aug):
g: 1218 avg: .317 hr: 279 ops: .975 bwar: 68.3 dwar: 8.2 sb: 204
g: 1169 avg: .306 hr: 276 ops: 1.00 bwar: 71.3 dwar: 3.5 sb: 197

Spa City
3 years ago

What is this “hip hop”? Never heard of it.

v2miccamember
3 years ago

I have loved the incorporation of the statcast data into the broadcast presentation and really wish they would go further with it. Yes they already show us the exit velocity on homeruns and sharply hit line drives. But why not use it also to show effectiveness by the pitcher. When a Dallas Keuchel type is retiring batter after batter with ground balls and soft contact, use it to show how he is keeping the exit velocity way below average. When a team has been using good defensive alignment, use it to show on average how little the defenders have had to move to put themselves in position to make a play on the ball. You don’t just have to reserve the statcast data for the big shock and awe moments. I think it can be used to help fans develop a deeper appreciation for just how amazing even routine plays are.

Marc Schneider
3 years ago

This is a pretty ridiculous article. The idea that the only thing wrong with baseball is “production values” flies in the face of common sense. I have been a baseball fan all my life and I’m not one of these “get off my lawn types” but anyone that watches a game can see that there is an egregious lack of action and an incredible amount of down time. This has nothing to do with announcers (who admittedly are often old school) or lack of pop culture at the games. There just isn’t enough happening. The author talks about strikeout being fun. That may be true when someone like Randy Johnson is striking out tons of guys because it’s unique. There’s nothing fun about strikeouts when every pitcher going out there can strike guys out and even pitchers getting shelled still get a lot of strikeouts. I don’t see what’s fun about that. You see innings that consist entirely of walks and strikeouts and the ball rarely gets in play. What’s fun about that? I certainly understand the point about explaining strategy, but the reason it works for Tony Romo is because fans expect some action to follow. In the case of baseball, talking about how the pitcher and hitter are trying to outfox each is fine, but who cares if nothing happens?

I still love baseball and I understand that some concessions have to be made to younger fans. Personally, I hate these ridiculous walk-up songs and being blasted with noise all during the game, but I recognize that the presentation is geared to a younger generation. But, to pretend that all that’s wrong with the game is the announcers, lack of music, and not enough domed stadiums is just sticking your head in the sand, IMO.

evo34
3 years ago

Do owners particularly care about incremental attendance? Obviously, there is a tipping point, but it seems like they are much more focused on TV ratings. The general strategy for filling a stadium is to jack the prices on those who really want to attend and then give away enough tickets (quietly, as last second promos distributed by employees) to make sure the stadium is not awkwardly empty. By no means is baseball the only sport doing this, by the way.