As lockout drags on, poll indicates MLB could be charting path to irrelevance

Apathy has been said to be worse than anger. If that’s true, MLB could be in trouble.

We’ve been into the MLB lockout for over a month, with negotiations basically non-existent, spring training reporting dates getting closer and closer, and many sports fans greet it all with a … meh at the top of their lungs.

If a recent survey from Seton Hall University It is to be believed that a large chunk of sports fans view the blocking’s lack of progress not with anger or impatience, but with indifference.

The survey of 1,570 adults last month found that 44 percent of respondents who identify as avid sports fans would be less interested in major league baseball when the 2022 season begins. That should seem like MLB to MLB. an eerily high number. But even if the powers that be dismiss that, there’s another troubling revelation from the poll: 54 percent of the general public responded that they had no interest in Major League Baseball anyway.

Even if you’re optimistic about the current state of baseball, this sure sounds like bad news for MLB players and leadership. And the longer the lockout persists, the more the path to apathy widens.

“We know from past work stoppages, whether initiated by management (lockout) or labor (strike), that fans tend to return. Today, however, there is immense competition in entertainment,” said Charles Grantham, director of the Seton Hall Center for Sports Management. “These numbers are not encouraging and should be very concerning for a sport trying to reverse a steady decline in grades and attendance.”

The survey numbers match other evidence that paints a potentially bleak picture, even when the necessary caveats are factored in.

MLB Support Success a minimum of 37 years in 2021, with the average attendance per game dropping for the fifth season in a row (not counting the 2020 season with no fans). Although much of the blame for 2021 attendance may be placed on restrictions imposed by the pandemic in the first half of the season, the drop is still quite remarkable because there was no corresponding increase in domestic audience, which was 12 percent less than in 2019. And while part of that decline was due to fewer streaming options in some parts of the country, the fact is that fewer people see baseball as a leisure activity, and those who watch it are getting older.

As of 2017, the average age of MLB fans / spectators was 57, compared to 52 in 2000. Compare that to the average age of fans in the NFL (50), NBA (42), NHL (49) and MLS (40), and it’s clear that baseball faces a great challenge if you hope to cultivate a younger and more diverse audience. But that would be the case in a normal year without a work stoppage. The fact that these numbers exist in a lockout winter without any good baseball news only emphasizes that MLB risks losing even more money in the long run, not to mention diminishing cultural clout, if it continues to give its fans and Potential fans reasons to find replacement entertainment. .

This is where these discussions generally get repetitive, with the Usual Suspects behind baseball’s troubles, each bowing: long games, slow pace, waning field action, poor marketing, unsatisfactory leadership. But your familiarity with these debates doesn’t make their effects any less real.

Although MLB has had some victories lately: the game “Field of Dreams” it was a success Last August, viewership increased slightly for the 2021 World Series and streaming apps and digital platforms for watching games are growing – baseball still has an issue of interest within the general sports and entertainment landscape. This is not necessarily surprising, given the ever-growing list of leisure options. But it is nothing either.

MLB has seemed to operate on a “if we play, they will come” mentality for a long time, resting on decades of laurels and seeming to believe that its relative lack of showmanship, shortage of household names, and rising cost of attendance would have little bearing on the performance. health or the popularity of sport. In other words: “People will come, Ray. People will definitely come.”

While that makes the film’s poignant dialogue tap into the longing for an idealized version of baseball, the sentiment hasn’t been sincere for a long time, and it certainly won’t have any basis in reality for much longer in our current circumstances.

While it is probably true that most diehard baseball fans will lose little to no interest in the sport they love no matter what, keeping those people engaged shouldn’t be the goal, especially when they tend to be much older than the fan of average sports. . Getting younger butts in the seats, younger eyes to look at, and younger brains to care for is the challenge for the foreseeable future.

The longer the lockout lasts, the more MLB owners and players give us little reason to think about their sport beyond lamenting their inability to act together, the more difficult the challenge becomes.

So how can MLB, both players and owners, reverse the numbers from the Seton Hall poll? How much time is left before they become irreversible? The solutions are mostly debatable, but one is indisputable: they have to play the games. MLB must have a product to showcase. That means this labor dispute must end quickly so that MLB and its players can make their latest sales pitch to millions of fans and prospects.

There’s a lot of modern baseball to love, but fans can’t fall in love and fall in love if there’s nothing to woo them with. Any significant delay in the 2022 season carries great potential risks, from short-term revenue to long-term resilience. So it is better not to have any lag.

There may have been a time when “if we play it, they will come” was a reasonable operating philosophy. But we are certainly not there anymore. Now there are other “ifs” to consider, including what happens if baseball slides further into the public’s entertainment consciousness.

It’s an outcome that would likely push baseball from importance to irrelevance.