Friday, April 04, 2014

Baseball: I guess I’m part of the problem, not part of the solution

On Monday afternoon, I watched the Red Sox opening game, played on the road, against Baltimore.

Personally, there’s something just wrong about starting the baseball season in March. (March!) But, they’re my boys, and I’ve been waiting for baseball to rev up, so I put the game on.

Oh, I’ll admit that I dozed off for an inning or two there in the middle. But I was awake for a lot of the good pitching, for most of those dozen stranded base runners, and for the final out in a 2-1 loss.

Tuesday was an off day, but I watched at least part of the games on Wednesday and Thursday.

And today, I’m heading down to Providence to watch Opening Day at Fenway with an old friend from high school. We will sit in her upstairs den, wearing our Red Sox caps, and chatting away while we keep an eye on the game. Which – now that I think of it -  is pretty much how we tend to watch baseball, even when we’re together at a game, in person.

Marie and I are both fans of the baptized-a-Catholic-but-born-a-Red-Sox-fan variety. We understand baseball, can watch intelligently, and truly appreciate the game.

We’re also 64, and, thus, we we are nine years over the median baseball-watching age. Part of baseball’s demographic problem.

If Marie’s husband – who’s 64, too – is with us, we will have one more geezer dragging things old. If her daughter is in town – phew! – we will have a 35-year-old to help even things out.

But the dire situation is this:

Major League Baseball has the oldest fans of the four major U.S. professional sports. During the World Series last fall, according to data gathered by Sports Media Watch, roughly half of TV viewers were 55 or older—and only 6 percent were under the age of 18. For the whole of last season, the median age for viewers of nationally telecast baseball games on Fox, ESPN, TBS, and the MLB Network was more than 54 years old. (Source: Business Week.)

The median NBA-watching age is a shade under 40. For the NHL, it’s 45. For the NFL it’s 49.

Golf’s median watcher age is 59, but golf isn’t a Big Four sport, and the writer just included it “to try to help baseball feel young.”

Overall, the:

… rule of thumb for sports demographics: The smaller the ball, the older the fan.

Well, that doesn’t quite work out perfectly: a puck is smaller than a pigskin. But I get the point.

Baseball fans are old, and, while we have money to spend on vitamins, Lifeline, and ED drugs -  advertisers don’t tend to love us to pieces. But:

…the more critical problem for baseball is that it does not appear to be restocking its fan base with the old people of tomorrow. Every year, the median viewing age gets one year older. It’s a trend line that ends in a graveyard.

This is, admittedly, part of an overall trend in which TV-viewers are graying, and millennials spend their time playing Candy Crush or tweeting or posting to Instagram. Or whatever it is they do that they think is more interesting and entertaining than watching TV, whether baseball’s on or not.

The MLB is trying to put things in place that distract from the undeniable fact that baseball can be slow and creaky.

They’ve created the Fan Cave, in which a couple of twenty-something slackers sit around in a studio for an entire season taking in every game. (Much as I do love baseball, I can imagine that watching every minute of every game would result in some sort of brain deadening. Post Non-Traumatic Stress.) And the Fan Cave is coming up with an off shoot, Off the Bat:

Young viewers who aren’t willing to sit down for a three-hour-long game featuring the Miami Marlins might just watch the team’s right fielder, Giancarlo Stanton, hit baseballs off a tee in a junkyard.

How this can compare to the timeless beauty, the literary grandeur, the historical sweep of baseball, I’ll never know. Then again, I’m one of the old geezers who actually likes baseball qua baseball.

MLB has other youth-enticing tricks up its sleeve. It:

…offers the game to young people in smaller pieces and lots of different places. The core of this appeal is the At Bat app for tracking or streaming games on mobile devices, which has been the highest-grossing sports app in the Apple  store every year since its release in 2008.

They At Bat folks are also making highlights of every game available on YouTube: “two-minute increments” for the two-minute attention span generation.

Merchandising – and I doff one of my many Red Sox caps to the major league sports marketers here – is also a way into the greedy, brand-conscious, consuming little hearts of potential fans. You can get a Mickey Mouse figurine, branded for your team.

… And this year the league is launching co-branded Hello Kitty merchandise for all 30 teams.

Hello Kitty? That ought to do it…

Of course, on the other end of the spectrum, you can get MLB-branded caskets, urns, and monuments. But that doesn’t help with the demographic problem, now does it.

But it is just possible that the:

…old-fashioned pace could serve as an advantage. This is counter-programming for a restless culture.


I read somewhere that Norwegian TV has very popular shows of people knitting, paint drying, snow melting.


Perfect for conversation. Perfect for reading. Perfect for sudoku.

Nice change of pace from having to pay at least occasional attention to the nation’s pastime.

And maybe the young folks will, at some point, understand the advantages of just plain chillin’.

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