August 13, 2014

Is baseball "dying"? Keith Olbermann makes an arguable case post #1994strike

Olbermann, on the 20th anniversary of the 1994 players' strike in Major League Baseball, and the approaching replacement of Bud Melman Selig as commissioner has a great video about how, even though baseball seems to be a cash cow today, demographics plus marketing raise concerns for the future.

"The kids are disappearing," he says.

First, here's this part. Olbermann says that wunderkind Mike Trout ranks only No. 100 among top athletes among today's youngsters 12 and older. Chris Paul, not the most popular NBA player, though high up, is ahead of him at No. 86. O.J. Simpson, retired for 30 years, a civil suit loser for about 20, and a felon for better than half a decade, is just behind Trout at No. 105, he says. Babe Ruth, at No. 18, is far ahead of Trout, even if dead for 66 years. And, LeBron James, mentioned near the end, is far, far, far ahead of Trout. As Olbermann notes, unretired swimming star Michael Phelps (maybe it's the bong hits?) and soccer/world football star Lionel Messi also rank ahead of Trout.

Other points?

National baseball broadcasts, as opposed to regional sports network ones, are tanking. So much so that national NBA broadcasts are ahead of them.

Avid baseball fans, by age, are three years older than the national average. At the time of the strike, they were a year younger. Olbermann notes that NBA fans have aged, too, but less than the country as a whole.

Contra occasional troll-level NBC Sports blogger Craig Calcaterra, where I first saw this, and who regularly does a strawmanning "baseball is dying" post, Olbermann's on a fair amount of solid ground here.

His solutions?

Getting rid of interleague play might help national game of the week broadcasts. I'm not sure. But, I get his drift. Baseball has become too much like other sports. That larger point is right.

Calcaterra's sneer about worrying about depending too much on regional sports network money, which does not face full revenue sharing, is also right. It's true that the NBA, which has less than full revenue sharing, unlike the NFL, has small-market Milwaukee and semi-small market Sacramento and San Antonio. (If one semi-cheats and includes metro Austin, San Antonio isn't a small market at all.)

But baseball also has Pittsburgh and Kansas City. And Cincinnati and Cleveland. The last three, while all bigger than Milwaukee, which is in both sports, are all smaller than Sacto and San Antonio (without Austin). That said, the NBA's Salt Lake City and Oklahoma City are smaller yet.

However, because the NBA's national audience is better than baseball's, it addresses equality — and fandom — issues better.

Sadly, it's too late to eliminate interleague play, or other Selig follies.

We can, though, do too things.

Enforce rule 6.02, about keeping batters in the box, and 8.04, about time between pitches. Those alone would speed up games a lot, and can be done without nuttier independent minor league ideas.

So too, would the next best thing to killing interleague play — killing the DH. Do all of that, and even a Red Sox game, with David Ortiz either on the bench or else at 1B, shouldn't need to run more than 3 hours.

(For more on how Rob Manfred is NOT a slam dunk to replace Selig, read this NYT piece. Also note the "takedown" of Tom Werner in Olbermann's video. Trumping both plus Tim Brosnan? She's not African-American, but Kim Ng is a minority and a woman. And, per Olbermann and demographics, younger than any of the three finalists, too. Food for thought.)

1 comment:

PDiddie said...

If it is dying -- I don't think it is, but it's becoming more of a niche sport, like hockey in the South -- then certainly Jim Crane and Jeff Luhnow are trying to drive a stake through its heart.

I have never witnessed an owner and general manager work harder to alienate its fan base in so many different ways.