Baseball Will be Popular Again

Popular Again
(Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)

Major League Baseball is working hard to make its’ product popular again. You remember the game. Recent complaints include baseball being an “old person’s” game. The games are too slow. Games are too long (and, with an average of close to three hours, that is the case). Well, major league baseball is finally taking meaningful steps, not just to end those trends, but to also reverse them quickly.

Average Age

Back in 2017, The Sports Business Journal noted the median age of a baseball fan was 57. Since then, both leagues, and the players have worked very hard to make changes to increase the popularity among all age groups. There was an increase in viewership at the stadiums and with merchandise, but that all stopped in 2020 with the pandemic-shortened season.

Difficult Times

Yes, baseball has had its’ struggles recently, including the 2020 season shortened by the pandemic and hurt by lockouts. Spring training had to be shut down in mid-March of last year. Opening Day was delayed until late July when players and owners could not settle on a when the season should start.

Follow that up with the 2021 season which saw fewer balls in play along with some of the lowest batting averages in history. Stadium attendance declined, and TV viewership suffered. Add to that the unsuccessful negotiations between player and owners on a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA), and baseball took another hit. Baseball fans were furious after team owners followed through on plans to extend the lockout players in 2022.

However, the biggest issue the last few years has been the shift with strikeouts up, and team batting averages down.

Rule Changes

The league has made a number of rule changes over the last several seasons to try to speed up games, and make them more exciting. There are plans to introduce more for 2023. The size of the bases is increasing from 15 to 18 square inches. The hope is that it increases stolen bases, while making is safer for players hesitant to steal due to possible injuries.

Defensive shifts are being restricted. Now two infielders must be positioned on each side of second base when a pitch is released. In addition, all four infielders must have their feet positioned in the infield cutout in front of the outfield grass.

In order to speed up the pace of play, pitchers will face a clock. They will be limited in their pickoff maneuvers as well. They will only be allowed to step off the mound twice per plate appearance.

Pitch Clock

The biggest change, and one that should help speed up the game is the pitch clock. The countdown starts when the batter and catcher are in their individual positions, and the pitcher has the ball. The clock will be set to 15 seconds between pitches when bases are empty, and 20 seconds when there’s at least one runner on base. There’s also a 30-second clock that starts when a coach leaves the dugout for a mound visit.

New Stars

It is possible for baseball to be popular again. The no-shift rule means more balls could be in play. The pitch clock will help lower games times. But, what about the demographics of the fans? Major League Baseball is hoping their young superstars can help with that. There are so many popular players today due to teams promoting them like never before.

Players like Mike Trout, and Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels.  When Ohtani is pitching and hitting, he’s a big fan attraction. Aaron Judge, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bryce Harper, Ronald Acuna Jr., and Corbin Burnes are also getting the promotion treatment. And, that’s just to name a few. There are more with universal appeal that are the future of the game, both players and prospects.

More Playoff Teams

The postseason now involves 12 teams (six from each league). This is an increase from ten teams (five in each league) in the previous format. That includes the three division winners in each league, and three Wild Card teams per league. This will hopefully create more interest with fans and raise viewership, since more teams will still be in the hunt for a playoff spot in the month of September. It gives fans more of a chance that their team could get a one of those spots down the stretch. Thus, it will make the game of baseball more popular.

Baseball and Betting

Betting could also make it popular again. Baseball and betting used to be nemeses. Now, however, like other major-league sports, baseball has embraced the billion-dollar American sports betting business. It has even been mentioned that current commissioner Rob Manfred suggested the slow play of the game could be perfect for fans wanting to make wagers. Several ballparks already have betting business establishments. The future includes seat-back devices, and apps that will allow fans to engage in the betting action.

Gift and Curse

The history of baseball is without a doubt greater than that of any of the other three major professional sports. This has been both a gift, and a curse. The long history of the game is something fans find interesting. Choosing the greatest players of all time, wondering how the early superstars would fare in today’s game and vice versa, and being able to see and compare some of the greatest plays every made all make for great baseball trivia and discussions. However, the “curse” comes with that tradition. Purists don’t want to see the game change.

New fans want shorter games with more play. Trying to please everyone while maintaining baseball traditions is difficult. With the recent changes along with the changes being implemented this season, baseball executives are looking to improve the game, and broaden its’ appeal, while honoring the traditional game. Only time will tell whether or not baseball can regain, then retain the popularity it previously held with people of all ages. Players and fans will adapt to the changes, and baseball will be better for it. The good news is that throughout its history, the game has gone through ups and downs, and has always survived.

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James Marshall

James Marshall

Jim Marshall has lived in Phoenix, AZ for 50 years. He is an avid baseball fan, but enjoys all of Arizona's local sports teams, including Diamondbacks, Suns, Cardinals and Coyotes. In addition to the four major sports, he closely follows the Phoenix Mercury, Arizona Rattlers and Arizona State Sun Devils. Jim's passion for baseball continues beyond the field as he is an avid collector of baseball memorabilia. His favorite athlete of all time is Baseball Hall of Fame member Harmon Killebrew. In addition to watching, reading and talking about sports, he takes time to travel and appreciate the great state of Arizona with his lovely wife, Patti.

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