Once hailed as "America's Pastime," baseball is now facing a significant decline in popularity. According to a study by the Aspen Institute, the number of children aged 13-17 who regularly played baseball dropped by 16.8% between 2019 and 2020. This trend is not limited to young players; viewership of Major League Baseball (MLB) has also been steadily declining since 1992, from 21.98 million viewers down to 7.51 million in 2022.
Reasons Behind the Decline
Several factors contribute to this downward trend. One major reason is the increasing competition from other sports. Younger generations seem to prefer faster-paced games like basketball or lacrosse, which offer more action and require less patience than baseball.
Moreover, the length of baseball games has increased over the years, with the average nine-inning game lasting three hours and 10 minutes in 2021, up from two hours and 33 minutes in 1960. This slow pace, coupled with a long season of 162 regular games, may deter potential fans who find the sport too time-consuming.
Another issue is the lack of recognizable stars in baseball. In an era where fans often root for players over teams, the absence of well-known figures in baseball could be detrimental. For instance, Mike Trout, arguably the best MLB player of the last 50 years, has only about two million followers on Instagram, far behind NFL star Odell Beckham Jr.'s 15 million and NBA great LeBron James' 100 million.
The Impact on Attendance and Revenue
Despite the declining popularity, baseball remains a profitable business. In 2022, the MLB regular season saw a total attendance of 64,566,636, generating substantial revenue. However, this figure represented a 5.9% drop compared to pre-COVID 2019, marking the ninth consecutive season of declining attendance.
Can Baseball Regain Its Popularity?
The future of baseball may seem uncertain, but it's not all doom and gloom. There are several proposed solutions to make baseball more appealing again. These include enforcing a time limit for pitchers, limiting the number of times a pitcher can "step off" or attempt a pick-off between pitches, and removing the human element from calling balls and strikes.
Moreover, marketing the true superstars of the game, fueling individual rivalries, and tapping into popular culture could help boost baseball's appeal, especially among younger audiences.
While baseball may no longer hold the title of "America's Game," it is far from dying. The sport faces challenges, but with the right strategies and adaptations, it can regain its former glory. After all, baseball has weathered numerous changes since its inception in 1876 and has always found a way to bring people together. With some innovation and adaptation, there's no reason why it can't continue to do so.