Is America’s Pastime in Decline?

An article by posted on April 15, 2011

David Waldstein of the New York Times had an interesting account of the attendance at Citi Field yesterday and the sentiment among the fans who attended.

The combined attendance for the doubleheader, which was made necessary by a rainout on Tuesday, was 25,758. But long before the end there was only a smattering of fans, and most of them were either extremely detached or very unhappy. A few wore bags on top of their heads, and by the end of the second game a handful attempted to generate a chant of “Sell The Team!” — something the owners are currently pursuing, but only on a limited basis that would still give them control of the organization…

Is America’s Pastime in Decline?

Even for the most diehard of baseball fans, it’s hard not to argue that baseball, once America’s all-encompassing pastime sport, is not quite what it used to be. Many fans, soured by the steroid scandals that have emerged in the last decade or so, abandoned the major leagues all together, and those that did stick around often did so with a resolute distrust of any player who seemed suspiciously large or muscle-laden. But the decline of baseball, if you can even call it that, has many other contributing factors. It just doesn’t seem that way because the media spotlight has been focused on baseball’s steroid scandal for so long, it’s hard to shine a light on something else. Below, we’ll cover various facets of baseball’s perceived decline, and how those factors are contributing to the descent.

Baseball Attendance

While some teams continue to pack them in every night (Yankees, Phillies), other teams have nowhere near the attendance levels of those at the top. So the problem is not a decline in attendance across the board, but rather, a decline in competitive markets as a whole. Before hundreds of millions were spent on the top teams, there was a more even playing field in terms of talent, meaning that raw success could come from any team in any stadium in the country. In recent years, however, the domination of the sport by several top tier teams has devalued the worth of attending a game of many of those bottom tier teams (those teams that have been on losing streaks for years, for instance). So, what we’re seeing is that top markets are as strong, if not stronger, than ever (New York, Boston, etc.), while other markets are in trouble (just like at the Dodgers’ attendance drop this year alone, which serves as a reminder that internal trouble can also sour fans’ willingness to attend games).

Baseball Ratings

Baseball is still a solid, if not very solid, television ratings contributor. The problem for baseball here is that the television landscape is changing. Football has a huge advantage for television, mainly because the nature of a limited number of games provides each game with an event status feel, while baseball’s hundreds of games means that many fans can skip out on a large majority of baseball games and still see more games on TV in a season than during all of football season. In the playoffs, the ratings can still pack a punch. In the past decade, though, high ratings have been predictably tied to top tier markets, just as with attendance. A Yankees-Red Sox ALCS matchup, for instance, can outdraw any World Series game featuring two lower tier teams. So we’ll continue to see huge ratings for the big guys, but ever declining ratings for the others.

Split Attention Spans

In a computerized, global world, baseball simply doesn’t have the pull it used to. Most other sports (with some exceptions, such as American Football) have been feeling the same tug toward the negative. Even children nowadays, once split between afterschool football practices, baseball pitching machine cages, and soccer clubs, now can play dozens of different sports in town or at school. While greater variety is always worthwhile, it can contribute to less passionate fans in a single particular support (though create broader support in the long run).

Baseball isn’t necessarily going to be on the decline forever, and as this article points out, it’s only in decline in some respects (while it’s gaining ground in other areas). For baseball’s sake, contributing factors to decline can always disappear or lessen, so it’s up to the people in charge and the fans watching to make the difference in the end.

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I'm a lifelong Mets fan who loves writing and talking about the Amazins' 24/7. From the Miracle in 1969 to the magic of 1986, and even the near misses in '73 and '00, I've experienced it all - the highs and the lows. I started Mets Merized Online in 2005 to feed my addiction and interact with other passionate Met fans like you. Follow me on Twitter @metsmerized.

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