Last night, Bryce Harper defeated Kyle Schwarber with a few seconds to spare in the final round of the Home Run Derby. The atmosphere in Washington D.C. was electric as Harper became the 3rd player ever to win the Derby in his home ballpark. The whole contest was fun to watch as guys like Harper, Schwarber, and Rhys Hoskins were hitting 400-foot bombs on a consistent basis. Overall, it was a fun night for baseball.
Last night reminded me of a common misconception that seems to be brought up every year. “Baseball is dead.” No, baseball is not dead. In fact, the MLB just set a record for revenue in 2017, surpassing the $10 billion milestone for the first time. Paid attendance is still hovering around $73 million, which is a decrease from previous years, but still a solid number. To his credit, Commissioner Rob Manfred is trying to appeal to the younger generation. Manfred wants to speed the game up by implementing a set number of mound visits and shorter time between innings. In hindsight, I’m all for speeding the game up, but at the end of the day, it’s baseball, not basketball or football. Games are still going to go over three hours. If the action on the field is exciting, the time won’t matter.
Although it’s not dead, baseball is struggling to connect with “millennials.” The average age of a baseball fan is 57. That is not good for a sport that desperately wants to get younger. Baseball fans know that the sport is in good hands with its young stars such as Harper, Aaron Judge, Mike Trout, and Kris Bryant. The problem lies in how to capitalize on these budding stars in order to reach a younger, more casual audience. In my opinion, this is where the MLB completely misses the mark.
The best player in the MLB is Mike Trout. What Trout is doing is historic. Trout is 26 years old with 2 MVP trophies and 6 (!!!) All-Star game starts including tonight’s game. However, if Mike Trout walks down the streets of New York City, how many people would recognize him? I’m being serious. Does the casual fan know what Mike Trout even looks like? Trout is the best player in the game and his jersey sales were not even in the top 7 last year. There are factors that have lead to Trout’s lack of star appeal. Baseball is typically a regional game, not national, so if Trout is not on ESPN or Fox, it will be hard for the casual fan to watch him play. His team, the Angels, have only been to the playoffs once with him in the league. Trout plays in LA so the time difference hinders the audience on the East Coast. Plus, Trout is very laid back and concentrates on baseball in the offseason instead of building up his public presence.
To bring this full circle, can Harper save baseball? Once again, baseball doesn’t need saving. It just needs to adjust it’s strategies when it comes to marketing its stars. If I’m the Commissioner, I’m showcasing stars like Harper, Judge, and Trout multiple times a month on national television no matter the records of their team. The NBA is star-driven meaning that the casual fan will watch LeBron James even though they may not know anyone else on the Cavs. The same needs to happen in baseball. Also, the MLB social’s media policy is arguably the worst of the major sports. Fans cannot post highlights or gifs from their own accounts without permission from the MLB. That’s baffling for a league that claims they want a younger audience, and yet enforce a strict policy on social media that is predominantly used by, you guessed it, young people.
Fans deserve to see the stars of baseball more often. It’s time for the MLB to make that happen.