For decades, baseball has been known as America’s pastime; however, it might not remain that way for much longer. With the sport’s lengthy runtimes and lack of successful marketing to younger audiences, baseball has had trouble capturing the interest of prospective fans in recent years. While Major League Baseball (MLB) has made efforts to speed the game up, they have been met with resistance from some of the league’s players and fans alike, leading to a debate about whether the game should remain true to its past self or adapt to ensure its survival in the future.
“The time just between each play and each pitch is just so slow,” sophomore Ishan Dohrmann said, “versus a sport like basketball where there’s constant action.”
Although the average runtime of an MLB game is three hours, only 17 minutes of that time is gameplay. The rest of the time can be attributed to breaks, such as those between pitches, innings and substitutions. In comparison, professional basketball games have 48 minutes of action in a roughly two-hour long game.
“I think the reason I’ve been so into [basketball] for so long is because of how fast-paced it is,” said sophomore Lila Boyle. “It’s always moving. Everything can always change in a minute.”
National Football League (NFL) games have only slightly more action than MLB games do currently. The average NFL game has just 18 minutes of action, yet the Super Bowl is still the most watched television event of the year. The NFL makes up for its lack of gameplay in its marketing, which is something some individual students believe baseball does not do enough of.
“I don’t think [MLB] does a good job of marketing itself towards younger audiences,” Dohrmann said. In 2017, just four percent of viewers of the World Series were between the ages of six and 17.
Even though baseball seems to be losing its younger audience on a national level, at GDS, interest in the sport has remained steady. Since 2014, the number of players on the men’s baseball team has never dipped below 26, peaking during the 2021 season with 31 players, according to a statement from Athletic Director David Gillespie.
One problem with baseball’s marketing is its approach to social media. The official MLB Instagram account has only 7.2 million followers, while the Instagram account of the National Basketball Association (NBA) has over 55 million followers. In addition to a smaller social media following, MLB has one of the strictest social media policies of any sport, limiting the content that fans can post during games, such as GIFs or highlights. For example, if a fan posted a clip of a home run before the end of the game, MLB would have that post taken down. NBA commissioner Adam Silver has taken the opposite approach, encouraging fans to post highlights.
“[The] NBA has all these hype videos with dunks and shots and the crowd going wild,” said Boyle. “I think that [hype videos] would get me more into [baseball].”
While Boyle and Dohrmann believe that baseball should focus on the excitement of the game in its outreach, junior Ethan Cohen, a co-head of Sports Analysis Club, does not believe there is any issue related to the league’s state of play. He is of the opinion that baseball is passed down from parents to children, not something that one can grow to appreciate at an older age.
Recently, MLB has been experimenting with new rules in the minor leagues, such as a pitch clock and limiting pickoff attempts (two per plate appearance), which are designed to speed up the game by decreasing downtime. The league has been testing new rule changes after decades of declining viewership. The rules have so far proved to be effective, cutting the length of games by at least ten to 15 minutes.
“I think that [rule changes] are a good thing for the viewers, but for players, I’m not sure how they would feel about it,” said sophomore Pierson Cooper, who plays on GDS’ varsity baseball team. He believes the rules that will speed up the game will not be well received because they will take players out of their natural rhythm and make the game feel rushed.
Some individual MLB players are worried that these new rules will lead to dishonesty throughout the league. Nationals’ pitcher Max Scherzer has been publicly critical of some of MLB’s new rules, specifically the three-batter minimum, which forces each pitcher to face three batters before being taken out of the game, unless they are pinch-hit for, get injured or the inning ends. Scherzer said in an interview with The Washington Post that he believes that teams may have pitchers fake injuries in order to get around this rule. “It’s very plausible that, when it’s convenient, somebody just could come up lame because the umpires are always going to side on player health, and they have to.”
Cohen believes that these proposed rule changes that are intended to speed up the game may also anger baseball’s existing fans who want to keep the game as it has been for decades. Sixty-six percent of existing MLB fans believe that MLB should not make any rule changes in order to speed up the game.
“I don’t think there’s anything [MLB] should do or can do to get more viewers,” Cohen said.
Though baseball is certainly facing many big questions about the game’s future, Dohrmann is confident that baseball will survive, saying, “Baseball has been popular in the past, and I’m sure that [MLB] will be fine in the long term.”