MLB keeps shooting itself in the foot, and if it continues, say goodbye to the casual fans who follow the game of baseball…
Labor strife between players and owners is coming to a ballpark near you, and whether you think it or not, like it or not, you will feel and see the effects of it both on and off the field.
Most fans of baseball don’t have a dog in the fight. They could care less whether or not Bryce Harper receives a fair contract, or if the Seattle Mariners “tank” the season to gain high draft picks and a good sum of free money from revenue sharing.
Casual fans of baseball don’t give a hoot if an owner spends stupidly on a player, awarding Jacoby Ellsbury $153 million, or providing a long term deal to players who are not aging gracefully as in the case of Albert Pujols, who can bare walk to first base, let alone run.
The casual fan of baseball is happy just to glance at the box score to see who did what in the game their favorite team played last night. Others follow the game to be part of the gang at the water cooler while others care only because their spouse cares.
Major League Baseball has the most to lose with these casual fans. They drop in and out easily in terms of their interest in a team and the game in general. Lately, they’ve been dropping like flies as we’ve seen a decrease in attendance by 4% from 2017 and total attendance number for 2018 was the league’s first below 70 million since 2003.
Rob Manfred says he’s got it all figured out – if the players would just listen. Manfred says it’s all about the “pace of play.” Speed up the game and fans will come back. In extra-inning games, put a runner on second base to begin a half-inning, so the game ends sooner. Tell the pitcher he has 20 seconds to throw his next pitch – or else! And tell the managers you’re taking the game away from them by eliminating the shift, and how often they can use a reliever in a game.
Whatever happened to that lyric sung at every ballpark during the seventh inning stretch? You know the one from “Take Me Out To The Ballgame”…I don’t care if I ever get back…
Manfred is dead on about one thing, though. Baseball does need some severe fixin’. And if the tension we see between owners and players tells us anything, it’s that baseball is not likely to fix itself. There’s no reason for owners and players to fix anything when, for instance, each club will pocket approximately 50 million dollars from Disney’s acquisition of BAMtech, plus another windfall from FOX’s new deal with MLB worth $5.1 billion.
Get this. More than half of the 30 teams in baseball will have half of their team payroll covered just by this TV money. And half of those teams will have 75% of their payroll covered while the Tampa Bay Rays will not have to pay one cent to cover their payroll. (Source: Spotrac)
Does anyone wonder why casual fans and even some passionate ones like myself are pissed off right now?
Sadly, if MLB and this includes the players too, wanted and cared enough to fix the game for casual fans, they could under the aegis of making just a few changes that have nothing to with pace of play or player salaries.
For one, MLB could follow the overwhelming success the NFL has had with the starting time of its Super Bowl, allowing for a start time of 7:00 PM for ALCS, NLCS, and World Series games. And that means first pitch thrown, not when the game comes on the air. School-age kids will watch – if they are given a reasonable chance to become baseball’s fans of tomorrow.
Second, resort back to a 154-game schedule that allows the season to begin later and away from the cold weather in the Northeast. Half these early-season games end up postponed and tacked on to off-days when they are most needed by teams in July and August anyway, or what’s worse, the games are played in shivering weather, giving another rude slap in the face to fans who are forced to attend rather than losing the money invested in tickets.
Third, stop the tanking by teams taking a voluntary dive. The NBA is rife with this practice, and to a lesser but still noticeable extent, so is the NFL. How, for instance, was it right for MLB to stand by idly while Derek Jeter dismantled the best player parts of the Miami Marlins, in effect telling fans of the Marlins – see ya in five years when we’ll put a major league team on the field for you again. Until then, please, pretty please, come to see your Triple-A Marlins.
Casual fans of baseball are not stupid. And yet, they are treated as such by the powers that be at MLB. Baseball needs not to worry about lifers like myself. I’m hooked, but I’m also 71, and so far none of my five grandchildren would enjoy attending a ballgame with me, much less catching a couple of innings on TV.
There’s your problem, baseball. Now fix it.
Written by Steve Contursi, Editor, Reflections On Baseball
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