Only half of the top 10 companies in the year 2000’s Fortune 500 list are still in the top 10 today. The businesses that were able maintain their rankings were the ones who adapted to our constantly changing society. Like businesses, sports leagues need to constantly tweak their product to sustain or increase popularity. Major League Baseball has resisted change. MLB’s refusal to evolve is causing a decline in popularity amongst youths. A recent Harris Poll found that only 8% of 25-29 year olds site baseball as their favorite sport compared to 19% of 50-64 year olds. More alarming is according to the National Sporting Goods Association from 2000-2009 the number of 7-17 year olds in Little League dropped 24%. MLB needs to make changes to appeal to youths before the new generation gets old enough to be the financial decision makers of their households.
MLB ignores the new generation of sports fans and keeps the game the same to appease traditionalist fans. There were a lot of reluctant consumers when smart phones came out who “just wanted a cell phone,” but imagine trying to run a phone company today that makes just traditional phones.
MLB needs to cater to sports fans that don’t watch baseball to save baseball, not the life long baseball fan. The consumer who “just wanted a phone,” eventually had to get a smart phone because he or she needed to have a phone and had no choice. Life long fans will still watch even if rule changes discourage them because they love baseball too much to stop watching and will have no choice. Kids and the mercurial casual sports fans won’t start to watch baseball unless things are changed. By making changes baseball will only add to its fan base, not lose it.
MLB has not made any major rule changes since the designated hitter was introduced in 1973. Since that time the NBA has added the three-point line, changed the way teams are allowed to play defense, and made other adjustments to encourage highlight reel plays. The NFL went to a 16 game schedule, made it easier for teams to pass, added the two point conversion, brought in full instant replay, and implemented more rules to protect star players. Both the NBA and NFL made adjustments based off of what the current landscape of sports fans want to see and are thriving while baseball dwindles.
Here are some ways MLB make baseball more fan friendly:
WARNING: Some are a bit radicle and may not be safe for baseball fans over the age of 50.
1. No More Time Outs
Once the pitcher has taken the sign and the batter is in the box neither player can call time. There must be a pitch or a pick off attempt. If the pitcher does anything else it is a balk. If a batter steps out the box, the play is still live and the pitcher will still make a pitch.
Little breaks in the action make baseball too slow. This will help eliminate some down time and keep fans entertained.
2. Three Tennis Style Challenges for Balls and Strikes
Each manager gets three computer challenges for balls and strikes a game. On a challenge the pitch will be displayed on the Jumbotron immediately and there will be a resolution within seconds; just like tennis. Also like tennis only incorrect challenges result in a loss of challenge opportunities. Example: If a manager with two challenges left correctly challenges a call, he still has two challenges remaining.
Horrible calls discourage fans. By eliminating some mistakes by umpires baseball can help keep fans happy.
3. Three DHs in All Leagues
Teams in both leagues can sub out not only the pitcher, but two of their weakest hitting fielders as well.
While there is something to be said about the increased levels of strategy non-DH leagues have, no one is paying top dollar to watch a pitcher stand in the batters box or a scrappy shortstop struggle to break the Mendoza Line. Adding DHs gives acrobatic defenders who struggle offensively a chance to exhibit their talents and allows sluggers who are limited defensively a chance to excite fans at the plate.
4. Eight Team Playoffs
All three division winners in each league make the playoffs along with five wild card teams. The bottom four wild card teams will play a best-of-three game play-in series. After the play-in round, the structure follows the current model.
Baseball has the lowest ratio of playoff teams to total teams in major sports. With such a low ratio only six or seven teams in each league are still relevant in the latter parts of the season. The added teams make more markets relevant throughout the year. The play-in round creates a major incentive to win the division or get the top wild card spot, which discourages teams from coasting in the last couple weeks of the season.
These are just a few changes that can be made to help baseball make it through the 21st century. These don’t need to be the exact changes MLB makes, but if MLB continues to stay the same it will continue to move closer to irrelevancy.