It's no secret that the MLB has had major issues with a declining popularity amongst the American sports landscape. Here are some numbers via Wyatt Allsup over at the dailytrojan to show you just how big of a problem the MLB has on its hands.
Total attendance numbers for MLB peaked in 2007 at over 79 million across a whole season. This number has since steadily declined. TV ratings are even worse: average viewership for the World Series has declined precipitously since the 1970s, from 44.2 million in 1978 to a record low 9.8 million viewers in 2020.
Also concerning is that baseball’s average audience is significantly older than that of other major American sports, and it continues to age. According to Sports Business Journal, the average viewer of nationally televised MLB games was 57 in 2016, up from 52 in 2000. Another jarring figure is that just 7% of MLB’s viewers are under the age of 18.
The most obvious explanation for this decrease in popularity aligns with younger generations’ seemingly shrinking attention span and demand for a faster pace than the game of baseball currently offers. In contrast, basketball has incredible athletes and non-stop action. Each and every play in football can change the outcome of an entire game.
I am going to dispute that last claim a bit because every at-bat can change the outcome of a baseball game, but the rest of what he said is extremely concerning. Even though the numbers are plummeting and have been for decades now, the MLB seemingly has done nothing to try and address this. In fact everything they do appears to only make the problem worse. The league had a bit of a resurgence during the steroid era when guys like Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire were blasting 70 bombs a year. How does the MLB respond? They crack down on steroid use and black ball many of the guys from entering the Hall. Whether or not you agree with steroid use in baseball or not is a debate for another day, but the results can't be disputed, they revived interest in the sport. Home runs put asses in the seats. Fast forward to this year and the league once again declares war on home runs by changing the physical makeup of the baseballs, making it harder to hit a homer. They also voted against a universal DH which would add excitement to the game. Lastly the MLB does a terrible job at marketing their players. This is due to their stringent restrictions on the reuse of MLB content. It's nearly impossible to share clips and other content from the MLB. This is unlike other leagues like the NBA and NFL who realized that social media is the way to grow in this era and the only way to be seen is to allow people to easily share your content. This is why only 7% of the MLB's viewers are under the age of 18, this demographic simply isn't seeing enough of the league's content to take an interest in it. So how can the MLB fix this? Fighting.
Last night was the first matchup this year between the Dodgers and the Padres. A rivalry that is sure to be on the edge of chaos for the whole season. During the game we had this bench clearing altercation.
We see this all the time. Batter gets hit, things heat up between the pitcher and batter, benches clear, suspensions ensue, the whole nine yards. This is an opportunity for the MLB that they are missing right now. Nothing gets eyeballs on the sport of baseball like a fight. You hear about every bench clearing altercation that happens throughout a season. The problem with this is it gets messy. There's too many people on the field, guys get in trouble who had nothing to do with the initial play, and suspensions happen that only serve to hurt the end product for the next couple games. But what if there was a better way of doing this? I propose the MLB adopts NHL style fighting rules. Something happens on the field that a player doesn't like, he gets the right to challenge the other players to a 1-on-1 fight. If said player declines then he looks soft as hell and everyone moves on. If he does accept, someone gets their ass beat and they learn their lesson. Everyone else has to stay where they are and we avoid the whole bench clearing scene. Think about one of the most memorable moments in recent baseball history.
Odor didn't like Bautista's slide so they get into a fight. Bautista learned his lesson and the fans loved it. It was a total win for the MLB. It goes a long way for player safety as well. Players will think twice before they make an aggressive slide and pitchers will think twice about hitting a batter. Imagine how many more fans will tune into a game if they know there's a chance a player they hate could get their ass beat. Someone like Trevor Bauer comes to mind. Lots of baseball fans out there despise Trevor for his pitching style and antics. This is understandable and many of these fans would love to see a batter have a chance to square up with him after they get hit by a pitch. They could do that in today's game, but they'll only get one good swing in before they're getting tackled by somebody. The MLB needs to give their players a fighting chance (see what I did there), especially to the batters who need a chance to defend themselves.
Will the MLB or the players association approve an NHL style fighting policy? Absolutely not. Should they for the sake of the game? I believe it is the right thing and the logical thing to do at this point. After all the sport of baseball is America's favorite past time, and what's more American than beating up someone you hate? For those of you interested here's an article about some of the most infamous fights in MLB history.