Are We Headed for An MLB Renaissance Year Sans Fans?

Jun 29, 2020

“ The game of baseball isn’t over until it’s over.” Yogi Berra

When Major League Baseball makes its expected return in July, it won’t look exactly like it did when last year’s regular season ended in September. For one thing, we don’t expect there will be fans inside the stadiums, at least until state legislation and health officials deem it’s safe for them to return.

But, it’s other modifications to the game that have the potential to make baseball bigger than it’s been in some time. In recent years, MLB have made minor alterations to the game, such as (trying to) speed up play (e.g., 20-second pitch clock) or make watching it on TV a more a more fan-friendly experience (e.g., strike-zone box).

The MLB has realized impact on multiple levels; notably, it ranks as the second-favorite sports league among Americans (distantly behind NFL), and second among all generations except for Millennials (NBA), according to a 2019 major research firm study. On the flip side, MLB attendance charts at 7% down in year-over-year comparison, and last year’s World Series posted the third-lowest ratings in history.

There isn’t much the MLB can do about the attendance challenges this year, however some of the changes with the rules considered to reconcile a season that’ll begin in July instead of March have the potential to buy interest. For one thing, there likely will be 82 regular games—80 less than a typical season—which forces a higher stakes per game scenario.

Other discussed adjustments to the game include a designated hitter in both leagues (as opposed to just the American League), which would increase run production, and extra innings that would begin with runners in scoring position—sort of an MLB version of college-football overtime. There, too, will be an expanded playoffs system, which will compensate for the drastically truncated regular season.

For years, pundits have argued that MLB games are too slow, the league is too unwilling to make rules changes and the season is too long. All these proposed changes would address those concerns. What’s more, Americans need sports right now. ESPN is now airing Korea Baseball Organization games because it’s one of the few sports leagues in action. Further, the appetite for sports is so voracious that “The Last Dance”—a 10-part documentary about the rise of the Chicago Bulls’ 1990s’ dynasty—is earning Nielsen-shattering records for the sports network.

The planets are aligned for an MLB renaissance, especially if it beats the NBA and NHL back as the first league to restore play. But, because the MLB is America’s Pastime, and—to quote Field of Dreams’ Terrance Mann—the one constant through all the years, it could prove to be the perfect patriotic pick- me-up that we all need right about now.

~ Marketing Workshop