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CHATTER squareLooking across the last several decades, baseball is undeniably in a “golden age.” Average game attendance in Major League Baseball has steadily risen over the last 60 years from around 12,000 fans per game to just over 30,000 fans per game. MLB surpassed $8 billion in revenue following the 2013 season for the first time in history.

Despite this success however, baseball has a big problem — a kid problem. Data shows that baseball has the oldest fan base of the four major professional sports, and MLB is not doing its part to attract the 6-17 demographic needed to change this fact.

Baseball is enjoying its current triumphs, but such complacency will almost certainly lead to a crisis in the next few decades. If MLB does not work to increase its popularity among kids, the recent successes in attendance and revenue will be short-lived.

According to data collected by Sports Media Watch, baseball has the oldest television fan base, with a median viewer age of 54. None of the other three major professional sports — NBA, NFL and NHL — has a median viewer age over 50. In fact, the NBA’s median viewer age is in the high 30’s. Even worse, MLB’s median viewer age has increased by 4 over just the last 4 years.

It is a sport with an old audience that keeps getting older.

The other professional sports have avoided this problem by excelling with the 6-17 demographic. In 2013, kids between the ages of 6 and 17 made up 4.6 percent of the World Series television viewing audience, baseball’s premier event. That number is lower than the number of kids who watch the NBA, NFL, NHL and Premier League on just a regular basis. Perhaps even more alarming is the fact that that the 4.6 percent statistic for the World Series was above 7 percent a decade earlier.

Granted, there are many confounding variables when discussing this in terms of television’s viewership. Mobile app downloads and online streaming, two concepts that cater overwhelmingly to the 6 to 17 demographic, are two such examples. Moving away from television, we can take a look at Little League baseball participation. Last year, over 2.1 million kids participated, down from 2.6 million 15 years earlier. Regardless of which way you look at it, baseball has a kid problem.

Naturally, given these alarming figures, one would think that Major League Baseball would already be working to reverse this trend and actively engage youngsters. So you’ll understand my confusion when each and every World Series game this season started after 8 p.m. EST. Five out of the seven games were on school nights. Baseball’s biggest stage is the East, and not a single game ended before 11 p.m.. One game went past midnight. Almost 50 percent of our nation’s population lives in the Eastern time zone, and yet not a single game ended early enough for the younger generation.

Let’s not kid ourselves here. Generally speaking, people determine their sporting interests well before the age of 17. I think it is fair to say that most kids determine their respective sporting interests, either for playing or watching, by the age of 12. That said, the critical demographic to target with the goal of generating lifelong fan-hood is likely closer to 6-12 than 6-17.

What was the overwhelming majority of the 6-12 demographic doing at 11 p.m. in the East over the course of the World Series? I can’t say for sure, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it involves a mattress and a pillow, not a television and a baseball game.

MLB has a kid problem. While there might be many unique ways to tackle it, moving up playoff game times is certainly one. I don’t see much incentive for baseball to stay true to its current time slots.

After all, two of the last three World Series have garnered the worst all-time ratings since the statistic began in 1984. Game attendance numbers, after consistently increasing over decades, have been slowly and steadily declining since their peak in 2006. This trend will only continue unless MLB can successfully engage today’s kids.

They won’t be able to change their curfews, so they might as well go out and change some game times.

1003230_566849336701913_1038445809_nConnor Maytnier is a sophomore in the College. Living on the Sideline appears every other Monday at thehoya.com.

2 Comments

  1. Well written article. I would say that baseball still has a bright future regardless. People have said for almost a century now that baseball is dying and it’s been fine so far. With football (and likely soccer as well) possibly suffering in the long run due to the rise of concussion awareness, I see baseball gaining in the long run. This will especially be the case if MLB actually enforces the rules it has on the ledger concerning speeding up the game and by making games more accessible through World Series day games, regular season doubleheaders, and better incentives for families to show up.

  2. Connor Maytnier says:

    Agreed that other sports like football will start to be negatively impacted as the concussion problem persists. Personally, I’m not sold that the speeding up the game tactics will help baseball much. Turning 3 hour games into 2.5 hour games? Not sure that really changes things. I support the measures nonetheless, but not convinced about the overall effect on attendance, viewership, etc. The game is slow and deliberate and always will be.
    As you mention, there are a number of avenues MLB can walk down to make games more attractive and accessible. But in the end, the sport is still struggling with kids right now, and they’ve got to change that fast, or risk being left in the dust by the NBA and NFL. Attendance numbers are already starting a slow decline. It will only get worse if they can’t engage today’s kids.

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