In the world of professional sports in the U.S., the NFL is king. Baseball was once the most-watched sport in the country and, over the years, has lost its appeal for many fans. Last year, a Washington Post poll showed only 11% of adults chose baseball as the favorite sport they like to watch, while 34% preferred the NFL. Baseball’s popularity is even lower among adults under 30, with just 7% ranking the sport as their favorite.
Many things have contributed to the decline in baseball viewership, with the most recent sports news being the three-month-long lockout which delayed the start of the 2022 season. Fans seem to be turned off when the season is postponed while billionaire owners and millionaire players try to figure out how to divide up all the cash, with many abandoning the game for good.
Small Market Teams Pushed Aside
Baseball is the only professional American sport without a hard salary cap. This ensures small market teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates and their $58-million payroll can compete with behemoths like the New York Yankees or Los Angeles Dodgers, which both have payrolls over $200 million.
Unfortunately, although the higher salaries can bring more superstars to these teams, it doesn’t always mean they’ll be successful.
With the current system, small-market teams are being placed on the back burner while the rich teams keep getting richer. Oakland and Kansas City are two franchises that have already been struggling financially.
Fans of these franchises and other lesser teams often see local talent being taken away by the big market teams and eventually yield interest when they start to lose. The last small-market team to win a World Series was the St. Louis Cardinals in 2011, and only five have accomplished the feat since 1997.
Fans Aren’t As Patient
Baseball viewership is also declining because of the game itself. The game requires more knowledge and patience than any other sport but lacks the action and physicality of other professional leagues like the NFL.
In addition, the games are slow, and the season is the longest of any other sport with a 162-game schedule.
There is also less action in today’s MLB, with strikeouts now outnumbering hits. There were about 70% more hits than strikeouts in the 1960s. In 2021, strikeouts far outnumbered the total amount of hits.
The league is experimenting with different rules in the minor league system to help with putting more balls in play and speeding up the game. Of course, this is easier said than done, as pitchers are better than ever and are only throwing harder and becoming more skillful every season.
Fans must also spend more time sitting through games that get longer each season. Part of that is contributed to the implementation of instant replay, which delays many games as umpires review videos to make the correct calls after challenges by managers disputing them.
As a result, the average length of a Major League game was three hours and ten minutes in 2021 compared to two hours and 33 minutes in 1960.
Less Big Stars in MLB
More baseball fans are making the point that the game doesn’t have as many big stars as in the past, making them care less about the players overall. The actual problem could be that the fans aren’t paying attention.
Many experts consider Mike Trout of the Angels to be the best baseball player in more than fifty years. However, he only has about two million followers on Twitter.
A lot of stars in other sports that don’t compare to his stature have many more, such as NBA star Kyrie Irving who has more than four million followers on the platform.
The fact that baseball isn’t big on social media is another reason the sport isn’t popular among young adults. In the past, the biggest baseball stars were household names. Unfortunately, modern stars just don’t command the level of recognition as in other sports, and baseball isn’t sure what it can do to reverse the trend.