An argument could be made that baseball has had the most tumultuous era out of the four major professional sports in America over my lifespan and the lifespan of fellow Generation Y members. The sport endured its darkest moment in 1994 when the World Series was cancelled due to a strike. Millions of fans abandoned the sport out of a feeling of betrayal by Major League Baseball. These fans were then drawn back into the sport during the magical summer of 1998 when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa saved the sport with their captivating chase of history. In the mid-2000s- the height of the steroid era- fans were once again left feeling jilted by baseball after learning of the cheating ways of many heroes that brought them back from the strike. Baseball is now in a renaissance period of sorts, as the parity of the game has never been higher and the game is returning to its most pure form. But is it enough to retain the league’s fan base, and its status as our national pastime?
With the NFL increasing its grip on American culture over the past decade, many of baseball flaws have been brought to light. The two most prominent flaws are the pace of the game and its physicality relative to football. It’s no secret that baseball has been losing in the race to capture the key 18-25 demographic, and the sport’s marketing strategy in recent years has shown this desperation to climb in the rankings. The sport has segmented itself from by introducing more high stakes games. While all-star games in other sports have been decreasing in competitiveness in recent years, baseball has revamped its All-Star Game to make it more dramatic and appealing to fans. The way this was done was to award home field advantage in the World Series to whichever league wins the All-Star Game. The league also introduced the second wild card position in each league prior to the 2013 season. This means that a second wild card representative will make the playoffs, and it will play the other wild card team in its league in a win or go home game to move on to the divisional series. Finally, MLB has done an excellent job marketing its crop of young stars that have helped captivate younger millennials. Mike Trout, Giancarlo Stanton, Yasiel Puig, Xander Bogaerts, Jose Altuve, Jose Abreu,Bryce Harper, Matt Harvey…the league hasn’t seen a slew of talent like this since the late 1990s.The question now, is has baseball’s attendance and viewership numbers been impacted by its marketing strategies?
Contrary to public perception, Major League Baseball has had all of its 10 best attended seasons in history occur over the past 10 years. So take that, all you naysayers who say going to a baseball game is boring! (I’m sorry; I may be a tad biased). This 2014 season was the 7th best attendance total in the history of professional baseball, with 73,739,622 according to mlb.com. This final weekend was the second best weekend for attendance this summer. Of course, in New York and Boston it helped that the most respected player of this generation was playing his final games in those cities. Say what you want about the Derek Jeter Farewell Season Tour, Major League Baseball did a magnificent job using his retirement to its advantage with regard to its marketing strategy this season. Thanks to the miracle that was the 2013 Red Sox, last year’s World Series saw a 17% increase in viewership from 2012- something that Fox Sports 1 certainly noticed. The network jumped on the rights to the NLDS and NLCS and executive VP of marketing Robert Gottlieb called October “the most important month in our short history”. It has pushed its “History Will Be Made on FS1″ campaign and other Fox networks are also helping. FXX is airing baseball themed “Simpsons” episodes this week hosted by Joe Buck to amp up its viewers for the NLDS.
Baseball has been lauded in comparison to football as being a slower, and less appealing sport to the younger generation than football has. One would think that the attendance and viewership numbers of our national pastime would have thus decreased as football’s respective numbers have skyrocketed. But as Jame Earl Jones says in Field of Dreams “the one constant has been baseball”. The sport is more popular than ever, and America’s game will never go away.