In late September of 2014, outgoing Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig appointed a committee, called the Pace of The Game Committee, whose charge was to find ways to improve baseball. At the time Selig outlined the areas the committee would look at to try to improve the game.
Selig was quick to point out that there were no Sacred Cows and that he would look at all recommendations the committee returned with, including ways to speed up the game, perhaps even make changes to the Designated Hitter rule and do whatever they felt would make baseball better.
Selig was quoted in an ESPN article on September 23, 2014 as saying that ‘We have the greatest game in the world, but we are always looking for ways to improve it. The game is at its highest levels of popularity and we will continue to strive for ways that can build on its stature in the future.’
Some of the ways that the committee recommended were adding a clock to limit the time a pitcher takes in warmups, requiring the batter to stay in the batter’s box with only a few exceptions and this year we have the new rule about sliding to break up a double play, the instant replay review of the neighborhood play and limiting the time a pitching coach or manager can spend at the mound advising a pitcher.
At the same time that baseball is taking the initiative to make changes to make the game move more quickly and make it more appealing, baseball is putting emphasis on reaching the younger generation of potential fans.
Baseball attendance was at an all time high in 2007, when 79,503,175 fans bought tickets to ball games, an average of 32,785 per game played. Since 2007, the number of paid admissions has gone down, not alarmingly but fairly steadily. Last year there were 73,760,020 paid admissions, a decrease of 5,743,155 or 7.22 percent, from 2007, to an average of 30,517.
This decrease has been at least partially responsible for initiatives such as those undertaken by the Pace of the Game Committee and the move to involve youngsters with the game.
MLB has initiated such programs as the MLB.com Kids Club, the Baseball Tomorrow Fund and has even entered a partnership with Boys and Girls Clubs of America to involve youngsters with the game. Money Magazine, in an article by Brad Tuttle on April 3, 2016, reported that despite all their attempts to develop a younger fan base, a poll, taken annually by ESPN, recently found that only 18% of 12-17 year olds describe themselves as avid baseball fans, the lowest percentage since the poll was started in 1995.
He also reported that ‘the number of kids who play baseball fell 24% during the ’00s and has continued to decline.’ New Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred is quoted by Tuttle as saying that ‘being involved with electronics and non sporting activities is why baseball is less popular.’
Money Magazine quoted a Red Sox study that found that ‘…people who went to games as children are nearly three times more likely than others to turn into ‘core fans.’ It doesn’t take a genius or a study to realize that kids or adults do not become ‘avid or core fans’ of anything to which they are not exposed.
While baseball has been studying changes to improve the game and make it more attractive to the fans, they have constantly ignored what is probably the biggest factor in decreasing attendance, in general and that of young people in particular, the cost of attendance.
Team Marketing Report’s most recent study of the cost to a family of four to attend a ball game will come as no surprise to most fans who have paid to attend a game recently. The study, which is done annually, assumes that the family of four bought average price tickets, consumed two small draft beers, four soft drinks, four hot dogs, paid for parking and bought two adult sized caps.
As you might imagine, the cost varies widely from ball park to ball park but the results showed that in Chase Field in Phoenix the cost to a family to see the Diamondbacks play was $126.89. The cost to a family in Boston to see the Red Sox play was $350.78.
How many times a year do you think an average family of four in the northeast is going to be able to afford to visit Fenway or any of the more expensive parks?
I would suggest that, instead of, or at least in addition to, a Pace of the Game Committee, Major League Baseball needs a Cost of the Game Committee to explore ways to reduce the cost to those parents of families who are raising the next generation of baseball fans. If those youngsters are not exposed to baseball and its environment, they will not become baseball fans.
This committee needs to look at such things as; Do they really need to charge $3.50 to $5.00 for a bottle of water than can be purchased at the supermarket for ten cents? Do seats in older stadiums like Fenway Park that are obstructed by an overhang or don’t even face the field really need to bring in fifty dollars or more? Just because you can get $4.50 or more for a hot dog, from your captive audience, is it necessary to your bottom line to charge it?
Bryce Harper and Goose Gossage recently engaged in a verbal battle over the changes in baseball with Gossage arguing against change and Harper arguing that change is necessary to the growth of the game. They both made good points and a meeting someplace between the two positions would probably serve baseball well in the long term.
In the meantime, baseball needs to take a look at its biggest problem, keeping its fan base growing and ensuring that the next generation(s) of fans are exposed to baseball the way my generation and generations before and after mine were and the way to do that is by making it possible for young people and families of all means to get into ball parks to see their heroes play.
All the instant replays, safer fields and time clocks shaving seconds off the length of games will not have the long term positive effect that making games more financially accessible for the average person would.