The MLB is in the midst of a cultural rebellion. It’s a league that has been run by, let’s face it, the olds.
Yes, we’re looking at you, Tony La Russa.
La Russa, the 76-year-old manager of the White Sox, is so out of touch with his young, flashy team that happens to be in first place, essentially has a mutiny in his clubhouse for his failure to back up his own player, Yermin Mercedes, after he was intentionally thrown at by the Twins after he hit a homer off of a position player on a 3-0 count in a blowout. The players have decided to win despite La Russa rather than with him, as they’ve come out with social media posts against his ideology.
La Russa is just one example of the “old guard” men in power in baseball who don’t know the direction the younger generation is headed. It shows as other sports are passing it by in terms of growing through open-mindedness. It’s failed in comparison to the NBA or the NFL to promote their product and attract newer and younger viewers. The same people who have watched their local team every day on cable television for the past decade continue to watch the game because it’s ingrained into their lifestyle.
You have their loyalty, but what are we doing to get new eyes on the game all across the world?
These are just a slew of ideas that would help baseball be more progressive and grow the game.
1) Make the Content…Viewable?
The MLB had Baseball Tonight cut from ESPN, the only daily show on the worldwide leader in sports that would talk pregame, displaying the fielding highlights and breaking down what to watch for in the upcoming series. They’ve benefitted tremendously thus far with a great slate of Sunday Night Baseball games, such as Dodgers-Padres, the Mets-Phillies home run controversy, and the Phillies-Braves home plate slide controversy, but this is essentially the only content we have where the majority of the eyes are on the sport on an out-of-market level.
If it was IN your market, it would be blacked out!
The blackout restrictions implemented by the MLB are crippling the growth of the sport with how many people are cutting the cord and no longer have cable. People in Iowa have SIX teams blacked out from their viewing. Other leagues, like the NFL, are starting to realize the direction the world is going in terms of viewership- starting next year, every Thursday Night Football game will be on Amazon Prime rather than cable.
The MLB needs to get out of bed with cable and local stations and revise the media rights so that little kids in Montana can watch Kyle Lewis and Jarred Kelenic on the Mariners if they want to.
2) Create an MLB-Edition of the NFL’S RedZone Channel
The NFL viewership has grown and continues to create new fans by embracing fantasy and, slowly but surely, gambling. Every game, player, and point scored becomes relevant to those types of viewers, not just the nationally-televised or local games. So, to cater to those fans, they created the RedZone package, which whips around through all of the games where there is a potential score, a crucial drive, or recapping big-play highlights.
Not only does the viewer get to keep up with their fantasy teams and the scores across the league, but it also educates fans across the nation about the stars and faces of the game, the good and bad teams, and the different play styles. If you’re a young kid watching RedZone in Houston and get the opportunity to see a big run by Nick Chubb on the Browns, maybe that creates a fan of a guy you typically would have had trouble seeing! It’s a lot better than being confined to watching merely the one or two matchups on cable in the area each week.
The MLB could do this so easily with their big stars. They could have a channel looping around to any big plate appearance- whether it be a big name that everyone should see at the plate, a hitter in the midst of a hit-streak, a starting pitcher who is shutting down a lineup, or simply a close game while showing highlights throughout the day. There are days where Mike Trout might only get to bat three times per game- they should ALL be accessible on TV.
3) Cut the Cost of MiLB TV to Promote the Prospects in the Minors Better
With the manipulation of service time more absurd than ever and more and more teams tanking for their farm system, the minor league teams have become more talented than ever.
If you’re a Pirates fan right now, and they traded away a treasure chest full of all-stars for high schoolers and twenty-year-olds to focus on developing them rather than winning now, wouldn’t you want to watch them grow? Or if you’re a casual baseball fan in Durham, North Carolina, and the closest professional ballpark is 4 hours away in DC, wouldn’t it be nice to know that the Durham Bulls minor league team has Wander Franco, the Rays’ shortstop that’s regarded as the best number one prospect in maybe decades?
As of now, the MiLB TV package is $12.99 a month, but with or without blackouts, the channel is never going to attract buyers as long as they have the majors to watch without having to pay for a separate package. Hardcore college football fans will watch televised spring practices for their team; if you allowed baseball fans to see the league’s future who could potentially play for their team in the coming years, they would easily watch. Without a major league team that may live closer to a minor league park, fans in cities could grow attached to teams and prospects and go to more games. The prospects that deserve to be playing in the bigs would already have eyes on them. It grows the game on a variety of levels.
4) Improve the Experience for the Kids at Ballparks
This seems so simple but could have such a widespread impact. Outside of the few stadiums with retractable roofs, baseball is an outdoor sport. Whether it be the heat from the sun or the chilling cold weather, if you bring your kid to the park, he or she is likely to be uncomfortable at some point and potentially complain and want to go home, given that baseball is a very complex game that requires a lot of patience and understanding of the rules. It might take a little more than a helmet sundae and a foam finger for them to enjoy the game. The ballparks themselves do a great job of providing activities for kids at the game, like the Royals having a putt-putt course or the Diamondbacks having a batting cage, but they
should also be able to enjoy and focus on what’s happening on the field, too, right? Give us more themed nights at the games with graphics of Spongebob on the scoreboard explaining stats or Star Wars night where players use bats that look like lightsabers! It might not seem like much, but it could be all it takes for a conversation between a father and his kids to spark up in the seats to get them interested.
The NFL had a Nickelodeon broadcast during a playoff game that was a massive success, and the minor leagues have a ton of fun with promotional games and contests constantly. There are 162 games- baseball has a long enough schedule to let its hair down every once in a while at the ballpark to get families in the building and start the interest and excitement from a younger age.
5) Sneaker Deals for Athletes and Fewer Restrictions on the Uniforms
On May 19th, Ronald Acuna Jr. hit a no-doubter walk-off home run against the division rival New York Mets, and he turned to his boys in the dugout after his emphatic bat-flip and made the throat-slashing motion paired with the Vince Carter 2000 Slam Dunk Contest iconic “It’s over” quote. It was so perfectly NBA, the league that has done a remarkable job of promoting the faces of the sport.
A major part of the reason the stars of the NBA have become so identifiable is fashion. After that dunk contest, you have people still donning the purple Toronto Raptors Vince Carter jersey to this day. The players get signature shoe deals that the youth can wear in their own games or off the court, pledging allegiance to either their favorite player or simply who puts out the best-looking one. It gets the names out there and creates identities for the players.
Meanwhile, in the MLB, Ben Zobrist was threatened with a fine in 2018 for wearing black cleats to honor Ernie Banks and Stan Musial because of a one-color uniform rule. They literally have “Players’ Weekend,” where they give the players a couple of days to lighten up on the restrictions and wear some wild colors for a bit of freedom.
Mike Trout, Francisco Lindor, and Bryce Harper all have shoe deals with Nike, New Balance, and Under Armour, but they’re either cleats, turf shoes, or trainers. We need more faces of the league, the Ronald Acuna’s, the Christian Yelich’s, and the Mookie Betts’s of the sport to have the freedom to express themselves and wear what they want and get shoes onto the kids in public schools to create a culture of having big names- look at what it did for Michael Jordan in the ’90s! People who had never watched a game of Chicago Bulls basketball in their life tuned in to his games after Jordan’s were popularized, and today you have non-basketball fans bidding thousands of dollars on his re-releases. Shohei Ohtani having a signature sneaker, might be the highest worldwide-selling shoe if he had a deal.
Chances are, if you’re tuning into baseball right now, you’re a loyalist; the MLB has those viewers in the bag! It’s up to the league to decide if they want to continue to expand like the other forward-thinking leagues and market themselves to new audiences.
Featured Image: Rob Tringali/Getty Images