Baseball is Dying Thriving; How America’s Pastime is Positioning Itself for the Future
“Baseball is dying.”
“Baseball struggles to attract young fans.”
“Is baseball on its way out?”
Chances are, if you have perused the national sports media headlines, you have read something similar to the proclamations above.
Unfortunately for the naysayers, those are wrong. In fact, it could be argued that Major League Baseball is as healthy as it’s ever been.
For starters, MLB attendance this year is actually up slightly across the league at a 1.1% clip, on pace to attract well over 70,000,000 fans, as the average game attracts over 30,000. Television viewership also offers encouraging news, especially in the regional space. Already, 11 Major League Baseball teams, or over one-third of the league, consistently have the most-watched broadcasts in their respective television markets, and at least 17 teams are ranked in the top three most-watched programs in their area. And while the MLB must be concerned with an aging demographic, they are certainly not alone in that struggle. According to Nielsen data, the NFL, widely regarded as the most popular professional league in the country, saw a decrease of 5.3% in the coveted 18-24 demographic from 2010 to 2013.
So how does the MLB combat this problem? With the most advanced digital media presence in the sports. MLB, through its partnership with MLB Advanced Media, has the most successful and highest-grossing sports mobile application in the world in MLB At-Bat. Using the app, baseball fans have consumed over 1.3 billion minutes of content, including live game action, highlights, and interviews. ESPN, and its WatchESPN app are currently in second place by content consumed, over half a billion minutes behind. With compatibility ranging across more than 400 devices, from desktops to smartphones to gaming consoles, the game of baseball has never been more accessible.
And not only has baseball improved its primary screen product, but its heavily investing in fans’ second screen experience as well. Baseball, with its stops and starts and occasional lulls in game action, lends itself well to Millennials’ preference to interact with multiple media platforms at once. Fans can now watch a game, while simultaneously be watching highlights, scrolling through tweets, and even check out Vines and GIFs posted by MLB itself from action across the league.
The newest investment baseball has made, however, is into daily fantasy sports company DraftKings. Like other fantasy sports concepts, DraftKings, and sites similar to it, allows fans to pick players for their team and then score points and earn prizes based on their real-life performance. However, instead of being stuck with the same team of players for the entire season, contests only last one day, so fans can pick a brand-new team the next day. And while daily fantasy contests are still a relatively new phenomenon among sports fans, they are growing at a rapid pace, and baseball is not the only sports property to notice. Fox Sports recently invested $150 million for a stake in DraftKings, and joining them are the NHL and MLS, as well as a rumored investment from ESPN. For Major League Baseball, a league with games occurring daily, it makes perfect sense to invest in a company and platform that allows fans to play in daily contests that revolve around MLB’s product on the field. Even better, with fans largely entering daily contests using players from many teams across baseball, engagement grows for the entire league as fans tune in to watch “their” players.
As Major League Baseball prepares itself for the future, it has one other thing in its favor. Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Kris Bryant, Carlos Correa, Giancarlo Stanton. All of those players listed will be perennial All-Stars for years to come, and all are under the age of 25. The game itself is getting younger, and with more youthful stars coming into their own, the league will have no shortage of marketable talent going forward, and will have outstanding representatives of the game for years to come.