Monday, July 10, 2006

The Demise of MLB...

Since MLB's All-Star Game festivities are taking place today and tomorrow, I thought it would be a great time to discuss my issues/concerns with MLB. Baseball is the sport I follow most and I will follow it until I die. How the sport is marketed and branded sometimes drives me up a wall, but I still love it. Below is the first part in a series on what MLB needs to fix to return it to its former glory. A lot of this information is for a paper I wrote for my "Business of Sports" class. Enjoy.

What has happened to Major League Baseball? Less than 30 years ago, the sport was considered “America’s Past time” as its popularity with fans soared. Fathers and sons would play catch late into the night after work and all day during the weekend. Who has not heard a story or two about a father and son catching a baseball game at the local ballpark? One of the main objectives of Little League baseball has always been to turn boys into young adults through playing the game.

In the 21st century, where is baseball? The sport has seen eight work stoppages since 1972. The sport has lost its label as “America’s Past time” to the National Football League. Auto racing and specifically, NASCAR is making a strong push to secure the number two spot in American sports.

MLB has always been the number one sport that I have followed. Even today, I cannot offer a comprehensive reason why I enjoy the sport as much as I do. From the statistics, to the amazing history of the game, to the passion of Red Sox Nation, to the game-by-game strategy and unpredictability of the sport – it cannot be beat. Unfortunately though, in today’s day and age, it is really tough to argue that baseball is “America’s Past time.” Rabid supporters of the NFL can offer a strong case, with impressive statistics, as to why football has become the most popular sport in the U.S. The sport has the largest following of television viewers, the Super Bowl is the most viewed televised sporting event every year and the league continues to bring its teams a record amount of money every time the NFL negotiates a new television contract.

Where did baseball go wrong? Where to begin? Could it be the disorganization of the “old boys’ network” in the commissioner’s office? The fact that MLB has been unable to develop a hard salary cap like football and basketball? The fact that baseball cards have lost their luster to fans, especially children? Maybe it is the steroid issue that is crippling the league and its image? Or could it be the loss of national television exposure? There are other items one could address, but these are the issues that are really affecting the league at a time when it is trying to rebuild its tarnished image.

Some people may disagree with my argument and believe that I don’t know all the facts and I don’t understand the big picture. Recently I spoke with Matt Burton, a former public relations associate working in the Commissioner’s office, about the demise of MLB and he said, “This really is a difficult question to answer as many would argue given the attendance records, sales of licensed products, TV/radio deals and ratings that MLB has never been stronger…however, many people now consider NFL as the number one sport and that it has supplanted MLB as the national past time. Therefore, I really think you may need to change people’s perception in order to regain the status as the number one sport…this might prove to be an arduous task given the set up of the NFL’s schedule (i.e. playing one day a week) which makes every weekend an event.”

In doing research, I found an interesting blurb on the positive image of MLB from Wikipedia: “Baseball is most popular in the Americas and East Asia (although in South America only in the extreme northern portion). In Japan, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Panama, Venezuela, Nicaragua, South Korea, and Taiwan, it is one of the most popular sports. The United States is the birthplace of baseball, where it has long been regarded as more than just a ‘major sport’ - it has been considered, for decades, the national pastime and Major League Baseball has been given a unique monopoly status by the U.S. Congress; the total attendance for Major League games is roughly equal to that of all other American professional team sports combined…”

While MLB attendance is at an all-time high, there are a plethora of peripheral issues that must be addressed from a “business of sports” aspect to ensure the future strength of the League. MLB can become “America’s Past time” once again in time if they “move the needle” and make a couple of important strategic changes to its business model.

Tomorrow -- The Commissioner’s Office


At 1:45 PM, Blogger Oge said...

Baseball sucks. It's mainly a salary cap issue. I understand why people are baseball fans in Boston and New York. But why in the hell would I be a fan in Pittsburgh or Cincinatti? That would be like trying to be Pats fan knowing that we would have to choose between Tom Brady or every other good player on our roster, while the Colts could field a team with Manning, Randy Moss, Shaun Alexander and the whole all-pro defensive team. Also the whole steroid thing is crap.


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