But don’t panic. Baseball may not be America’s pastime anymore, but it’s not dead. Yet. Yes, it is declining in popularity and attendance, but it’s still the second most popular sport in America, even though it’s losing ground to the NFL and college football is snapping at its heels.
Every year, the pundits break out their poison pens and proclaim the sport is dead, then inundate us with polls and statistics and declining attendance figures. And every year something happens that gives baseball another shot of adrenaline. Last year it was the prospect of the Chicago Cubs winning their first World Series in 108 years against the Cleveland Indians, which hadn’t won a Series in 68 years.
It was two proud franchises with the longest title drought in World Series history, a combined 176 years without a championship. And it went down to a thrilling seventh game, which the former “Lovable Losers” Cubs won in comeback fashion.
This year’s baseball season hasn’t come up with its signature moment yet, but it’s still early and teams are jostling for position and teams are settling in.
The story line so far this year is the resurgence of the Yankees and Twins to the top of their divisions and the fall of the Blue Jays and Royals (both playoff contenders last year) into the basement, in the American League.
In the National League, it’s the inexplicable rise of the Brewers and Rockies to the top of their divisions and the fall, so far, of the Giants and Mets, both playoff teams last season.
But, as most fans will tell you, anything can happen, it’s a long season and big stories are bound to break when you least expect it.
The main gripes are: the games are too long and too slow, kids don’t play baseball like they did in years past (Little League participation has dropped steeply), there are too many games, the games are too expensive to go to, especially for families, football is more fun to watch, fans are getting old, and there are many more forms of entertainment that draw people away.
All true, to some point. But at least Major League Baseball is trying to address some of those problems, such as trying to shorten games, promote their exciting new stars, pushing new forms of media such as social media and fantasy leagues and putting money and effort into youth baseball leagues around the country, such as MLB’s urban youth initiative to get inner-city youth interested in the sport.
So how is baseball staying alive? Well, mostly through cable, broadcast and streaming revenues from national and regional sports networks (Time Warner Cable paid the Los Angeles Dodgers $340 million to exclusively broadcast their games), and online sources (MLB.tv had more than 3.5 million subscribers).
But the bottom line is that, for baseball to survive, America’s youth has to get involved (easier said than done) and play again. Even Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred agrees, telling the Wall Street Journal that “The biggest predictor of fan avidity as an adult is whether you played the game.”
Or as Laura Hanby Hudgens pleaded on her blog “Charming Farming,” the sport still matters:
“Baseball matters because it has shaped our culture and our kids for decades. It is a part of our history. But mostly it matters because, as a friend of mine who has coached the game pointed out, baseball is a microcosm of America. The things that affect baseball — money, the family, values, and how kids spend their time — are things that affect us all.”
Listen up, America! Laura Hanby Hudgens has spoken.
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