Written By: Brooke Brady
“What’s it been- 30 years now of the Sunday tradition coming to the old ball game?” Ben gleams. “Where’s Jim?” Ronald turns to him and asks. “Darn box office prices got to him again. These costs just keep soaring. I’m not sure if we can keep this weekly venture up…” Ben stiffens. Ronald looks around at the cold empty seats by his side. He reflects on the time when he could barely get a spot in the nosebleeds to see his favorite team play in the sweltering heat. Now, no one comes out to the plate anymore- it’s all seen on TV.
Bat and ball has become a whole new ball game for baseball lovers around the nation as more and more people are watching from the comfort of their home. With the rise of live stream and online viewing for sports, major decrease in fan attendance to the actual game has followed according to the NY times. Not only is accessibility a cause for decrease, but also the lack of actual game play. Sources such as The Washington Post have found that box office numbers are “directly tied to the rise in strikeouts and fall in base hits.”
Baseball fans around the country have continuously complained of the changes the game is experiencing. From a major increase in strikeouts, to an excruciatingly long play time, baseball is said to be becoming the game with “not enough action” as said by the Boston Globe. So what exactly does this mean for the future of baseball?
It means less money in ticket sales and less people in the stands for the entirety of the game. Wait times between plays have increased substantially. According to Sports Illustrated, “the average time between balls put in play is a staggering 3 minutes, 45 seconds.” USA Today reports that “the game is simply devoid of action, with players striking out, walking or hitting home runs in 34 percent of their plate appearances. So, for more than a third of every game, there’s not a fielder involved in the action.”
On the contrary, sports columnist, Noah Frank, has decided that these claims are simply the “perspectives of people who watch the game every day, for work… while they may be some of the most informed when it comes to the minutiae happening on the field, they are necessarily blind to the fan perspective.”
He believes that baseball has been and always will be “entertainment.” He doesn’t think that people will stop coming to the game simply because it takes too long, but more so because it costs too much. Wtop sports reports, the truth is that “the value of such entertainment isn’t measured in pitch clocks or percentage of balls put in play — it’s measured in dollars and cents.” Frank continues to elaborate on his view that baseball as a sport is too costly. He incorporates the fact that parking has become outrageous, food prices are continuing to skyrocket, and even the ticket price has “doubled since the year 2007.” All of these factors build over time and eventually discourage people from attending the big game.
“I know it’s a hassle getting to the ballpark. I get it. Even if we’d have won 100 games, who knows if it would have been different?”
– Kevin Kiermaier (Rays outfielder)
Frank does turn to the numbers for support as well. Pointing out that the minor league has actually had a “increase in average attendance and overall since 2016.” This is because people view the minor league as the “best entertainment value” and a more “loyal fan base” found among the 160 teams.
There is no shortage of conversation among the fans and their fellow attendees. People have taken advantage of the internet and the ease of communication it has brung among the “common folk” and the big corporations which run many sports leagues.
One service in particular for users to directly interact with companies and sponsors is the social media network “twitter.” With only 280 characters, people have their opportunity to voice their concerns and opinions. The platforms main form of communication features “tweets” which are ultimately posts to a world wide bulletin board. After analyzing tweets containing the words, “mlb attendance,” it is easy to see that the dialogue around baseball turnout today isn’t a positive one. Overall, there is a trend of criticism combating the numerous claims of attendance lowering throughout the league. Audience members throw around the word “ratings” and claim that all MLB wants is to make more money.
To understand the fan-baseball attendance relationship, I decided to dig deeper and analyze the language and recurring media trends seen throughout the tweets. I found this collection of data as the best methodical approach due to the fact that many times, twitter conversations are typically candid and show a great depth of personality. They give a unique glance at the public’s reaction to minute events and show us how individuals use the network to make their voice heard. As a casual form of media, twitter engages users in a continuous conversation which can be seen by everyone. This distinctive feature distinguishes the platform from other forms of communication and social media.
There remains an open discussion among fans asking why this is happening and whether or not the patterns will continue. Many of the tweets feature linked articles or responses to prior conversations in the twitter world around MLB motivations. Most of the talk is streamed directly from personal accounts, but every now and then a touch of accredited news sources or organizations will pop up. What does this mean for the companies in charge of the big business of baseball? Are they hearing their fans out or are they simply doing what is best for the enterprise.
Nationals play Seattle Mariners 5/25/2017
“This game was moved to 12:05 from 4:05 start to get avoid rain expected later. Resulting in rather low attendance as we watch the first Seattle batter come to the plate.”
Michael Neubert, Getty Images
One user account, @ProblemsMlb, is dedicated to the sole purpose of striking up a conversation around the issues in the MLB. A specific conversation the account pursued brought in the perspective of the family. On December 6th, 2018, he wrote a response to an initial tweet made by WOWK 13 News linking their article on the “steep attendance drop” throughout the league.
The additional use of hashtags to advertise ones tweet has also remained relevant in the discussion around MLB. Popular hashtags include: MLB, Fans, Attendance, and even things like the mentioned above, affordability. All of
these factors point to the fact that the fans of the MLB want particular pieces of their tweets to stick out. The hashtag gives a user the ability to follow a certain word through a like strand of tweets containing the same tag. This gives the tweets more exposure and in the case of frequent tweeters such as @Problemsmlb, a consistent track of their previous comments and thoughts.
Everyday another account updates their twitter with an opinion about the MLB and their attendance policies. These postings can range from parody articles, to statistics, to angry rants, but the fact that there is still an ongoing conversation proves to be a good thing. As the saying goes, “bad publicity is still publicity” and it can be considered that the MLB will continue to take everything and make it a home run.
An additional piece of evidence worth understanding is the MLB year-by-year statistical report with average attendance, average attendance per game, and average number of pitchers used by individual teams in the season.
“Average attendance” provides average numbers based on the amount of tickets sold during home games. The table shows a substantial increase from 2000 until 2007, when the numbers of average overall attendance begin to drop again. This trend downward may be due to the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2007-2008 in which many people began to eliminate frivolous entertainment practices. From 2008 to 2009 is when we can see the biggest drop as explained by @Problemsmlb. Season tickets are automatically renewed the year before, so this drop in 2009 as opposed to 2008 was probably due to the fact that people had to cancel their tickets later than they wanted to due to renewal constraints.
In the far left column of the table also stands the pitchers statistic. The only significance this pattern shows is the continuing increase in the number of pitchers teams keep on their roster. With more team members, comes more costs and more salaries to pay so as this goes up, so will prices, and then attendance will fall.
Dynamic pricing has also become a hot button for the people whom are purchasing tickets to the game. The algorithm many ticket specialists are using is said to “measure demand and price sensitivity to a particular game on a real-time basis” as fangraph explains. It’s not just a one and done deal for pricing consultants and teams alike, “many factors are considered, including the weather, a winning or hitting streak, the debut of a hot prospect and the price tickets are selling for on the secondary market, like StubHub.”
All in all, people are beginning to focus their interests and money elsewhere. After reading endless tweets about fan complaints and experiences, it was seen that people simply don’t want to spend the money and time anymore at the actual game. Families and even just regular old sports fans don’t like the amount of bills traveling from their wallet to the ticket stands. When they go to purchase their tickets or anything else included in the home game experience, they feel ostracized by their favorite sport. If prices of all aspects of baseball continue to rise, people will find cheaper alternatives to actually showing up to be the live audience.
Times are changing according to Beyond the Boxscore report which states that “the average age of a baseball fans is almost 55.” The average sports fan attention span is slowly degrading as big media companies are working towards making the next big sport faster, better and bigger. The NFL is bringing in the viewers who “don’t have the time to watch nothing happen.” Sports watchers want a lively game for their entertainment. Although baseball has remained prevalent in American culture, will it be able to save it’s long standing decline in attendance? Will it continue to be “America’s favorite past time”? It seems that question will be answered when you attend your next home game.
featured image from: http://fortune.com/2018/06/15/mlb-attendance-rate-declining/