Is Baseball dying in America? We take a look at the rapid decline in MLB viewership numbers in recent years and the reasons for this trend.
As time has gone on, the world has exponentially moved toward everything you visually consume being faster-paced shorter. With this change, baseball and MLB has been a sport that has struggled to stay atop the popularity metrics.
Known as America’s Pastime, some may argue that moniker now belongs to the NFL. A lot of that has to do with Major League Baseball’s viewership declining rapidly. Probably ever since the Red Sox 2004 World Series success.
Looking at the highest rating for each game of a World Series, this is how the television viewership shakes out:
- Game 1: 43.51 million (1978)
- Game 2: 42.990 million (1980)
- Game 3: 43.810 million (1978)
- Game 4: 39.22 million (1982)
- Game 5: 48.99 million (1982)
- Game 6: 54.86 million (1980)
- Game 7: 55-60 million (1986)
Compare this to the lowest number and, well, you’ll be able to see that is far more recent.
- Game 1: 9.195 million (2020)
- Game 2: 8.95 million (2020)
- Game 3: 8.156 million (2020)
- Game 4: 9.332 million (2020)
- Game 5: 10.059 million (2020)
- Game 6: 12.627 million (2020)
- Game 7: 23.013 million (2019)
Many variables could have played a role here, which are all important to investigate. So, here are the factors which may explain why baseball is dying as a sport.
Average Age of an MLB Fan
The first is the average age of a fan. In a 2017 study conducted by Sports Business Journal, the average age of an MLB viewer was 57 years old. This was even before the record low ratings over the last few years
So, if you look back to the record-high numbers, a 57-year-old in 2017 was in their late 20s during those booming 1986 numbers. If you want to look at the 1978 numbers, that 57-year-old individual would have been in their late teens or early 20s.
This was when baseball made lifelong fans. Now, that is no longer the case.
Let’s face it, as the average age of 57 years old in 2017 gets, well, older, the fans of the sport get older. Then, for the lack of a better term, they will die out…literally.
Average MLB Game Time
Next, you have to look at the average game time. Interestingly, according to National Arms Race, as of 2021, baseball ranked second in total duration at 2 hours and 56 minutes behind only football, which came in at 3 hours and 10 minutes.
However, the NFL and football are arguably as big as it has ever been. There are multiple contributing factors to that, which is a story for another time. But, those aspects – shorter season, 1 game per week, fantasy football – are all things that baseball does not exceed well with.
The games may be 14 minutes shorter. However, recent rule changes such as warm-up pitches and the pitch clock have dramatically helped.
Thriving Fantasy Community Isn’t as Big as the NFL
Fantasy sports are a massive part of sports today. With baseball having so many games, if you’ve ever played fantasy baseball, you know that it is a massive chore to keep up with your lineups each and every day, keeping track of the waiver wire.
While fantasy football can be the same, a casual player doesn’t necessarily need to do all of those things all of the time like you need to in baseball.
New Generation Doesn’t Have the Same Nostalgia
For most people, when we were kids, there were hit baseball movies such as:
- Field of Dreams
- Bull Durham
- The Sandlot
- A League of Their Own
- Rookie of the Year
However, all of those movies came out in 1993 of before. The only other major baseball movies to come out since then were “42” which detailed Jackie Robinson, and Moneyball, which detailed the early 2000s Oakland Athletics’ approach to building a team.
While those movies came out more recently, they were about events that happened at a time when this next generation of possible fans were just born or not even born yet. To put it into perspective, Juan Soto, one of the best baseball players on the planet, was just six years old when those Oakland A’s teams were happening.
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Is Baseball Dying? Or Are Attention Spans Dying?
This one seems like a no-brainer and ties into the long game times. You don’t really need statistics to back this one up.
Right now, the hottest mobile app on the planet is TikTok. On TikTok, the shorter the content, the longer the average time people watch it, the more it gets pushed out in the algorithm. Then, the more people see it.
With sports, unless there is something else tethering us to it, such as fantasy sports or being absolutely passionate, there’s very little in between.
I mean, how many regular season MLB games would a casual fan watch? Other than someone who plays fantasy sports or is a diehard fan…
This isn’t to trim people down who enjoy faster-paced and shorter content. It’s just a fact that the marketplace has demonstrated. There’s no real way for baseball to adapt to that.
Nowadays, there are simply more things that you can access, which takes people’s attention away from baseball.
Remember, baseball isn’t just competing with other sports. It’s entertainment. It’s competing with everything. When people ask “why is Baseball dying?”, this is certainly a good argument as to why.
Offseason Lockout (2021 Season; 2022 Offseason)
There was a lockout following the 2021 MLB season for something more recent. There were some real doubts as to when baseball would be played. Thankfully, no games were actually taken off the schedule. But, if it wasn’t for a last-minute deal, Commissioner Rob Manfred was ready to declare that some games would not be played.
With this going on for nearly 100 days, it’s safe to assume that some existing fans, casual fans, and fringe fans saw this. And, like most people do when sports and money collide, they blamed the batch of millionaires for wanting even more millions.
Personally, this type of thing doesn’t bother me. But that is how some people feel, and they are entitled to that.
It will be interesting to see how this offseason lockout impacts the overall viewership during the year and if the 2022 World Series hits new record lows.
What Does This Mean For Baseball?
With all of these factors in mind, we must ask: Is baseball dying?
Even if baseball is no longer as popular as it once was, there will always be a group of fans that will love and appreciate baseball.
Does it need to be the biggest sport in the world? No.
Will it ever be the biggest sport in the world again? Probably not.
Is baseball dying? We don’t think so!
But that’s OK. It doesn’t need to be. For some, baseball and their love of it are personal. Maybe it’s a way that you connected with a parent who is older now or may have passed away; maybe you were a kid who grew up in Chicago or in Boston and finally saw your team win after decades and decades of never getting back there.
Going to a baseball game is an experience, unlike any other sporting event. With the viewership and fan base dwindling, these fans you’re sitting beside you love the game as much as you do. All of the old baseball tropes are there, too—hotdogs, cracker jacks, the main song for the team, and yes, the $14 Bud Lights.
There’s some ethereal about sitting in your seat at a live game or from the couch at home and waiting anxiously for the next pitch.
That’s the thing with baseball. Everything can change in an instant. From silence to a game-winning grand slam. That is not something many other sports can pull off.
So, baseball will always be America’s Pastime. The NFL may be America’s Future, but that’s OK.
If you’re a fan of baseball, don’t let ratings and viewership cloud your enjoyment. Baseball will always be there for you no matter what those numbers say.
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