Taking Aim: With Proper Focus, Baseball Can Reconnect With Youth
As far as growth, there’s a promising path forward: If local organizations and philanthropies look to expand participation, they can start by investing more resources into low-income areas.
Major League Baseball may still be raking in the cash (only the NFL has higher profits among sports leagues), but the numbers show that its audience is getting older while the next generation just isn’t as interested.
The times are changing. These days, we have instant access to information and entertainment through the internet, same-day shipping options and door-to-door rideshare services. Waiting just isn’t something with which the younger generation has had as much experience. Unfortunately, waiting is also a big part of baseball, and the numbers show that younger people are not as interested in the sport as they once were.
According to a Washington Post article by Marc Fisher, “On opening day of the 140th season since the National League was founded, baseball’s following is aging. Its TV audience skews older than that of any other major sport, and across the country the number of kids playing baseball continues a two-decade-long decline.”
Nielsen ratings also show that more than half of baseball viewers are 55 or older.
So, why are kids souring? There are a few reasons, besides all that waiting for which baseball is known. NPR reports that baseball games are getting longer, stretching out to 3 hours and 8 minutes in 2017 — up from 2 hours and 46 minutes in 2005. Many kids are drawn to the faster pace of play in basketball or the spectacle of football. They relate to acting and reacting in the moment, as opposed to watching and predicting.
Additionally, overall sports participation is dropping among youth (a 9 percent drop over the past 5 years), with about half of all kids in America not participating in any team sport.
The real nail in the coffin may come down to cost, which can reach $2,000 a year for many families. In a 15-year study of 10,000 youth baseball players, it was found that 95 percent of college baseball players grew up in a home with both biological parents present. The sport Itself is very much made up of the affluent, suburban demographic, and does not reach as many kids in low-income areas.
However, the situation is not all doom and gloom. As far as growth, there’s a promising path forward: If local organizations and philanthropies look to expand participation, they can start by investing more resources into low-income areas. Doing so would re-introduce the sport to a fresh pool of youngsters and hopefully spark interest for the future.
Also, while TV viewership for baseball is down overall, it’s still very strong in certain regions — in the top 11 markets (led by St. Louis, Detroit, and Cincinnati), home games are the most-watched TV programs throughout summer.
Major League Baseball this year had players from 21 countries on its Opening Day rosters, which looks like a sign of international growth for the sport. But while some college sports have a big portion of its rosters taken up by international athletes, the numbers show that 99.2 percent of college baseball players are still homegrown.
There are still plenty of opportunities for kids to play — we just have to reach out to the right ones in order to get baseball back on the upswing.