As a non-baseball fan, it feels impossible for me to get invested in the MLB.
While the diehards, traditionalists, and statistical fanatics of pro baseball find no trouble following along with the MLB’s grueling 162-game season, baseball is losing its broader draw on casual fans.
It feels like the games only start to matter at the end of the season when a couple of teams are vying for playoff and wild card spots. Even then, I haven’t been inclined to sit down and watch a game in August in many years.
Professional baseball lacks the excitement, stakes, and draw of other popular sports that do a good job of bringing in casual fans. I simply can’t bring myself to watch my favorite team or even the best team play, unless it’s the playoffs. The games are long, boring, and low stakes; who wants to watch that?
Other sports solve all these issues with the structure of their seasons. In football, a couple weeks will make or break a team’s year.
The 12-game College Football schedule and the 17-game NFL schedule are way more engaging and entertaining. With one game a week, anticipation for the game builds throughout the week, and each game holds a big significance for the rest of the season.
Even sports with longer seasons, like a 30-game season for college basketball, captures the attention of fans and are easier for less committed fans to watch and get invested in the games.
Baseball’s never-ending regular season makes it incredibly hard for fans to stay invested. Even committing to watching 10 or 20 games all year is tough. The longer the season is, the less importance each game holds, making it harder for fans to care.
It also doesn’t help that baseball is so hard to watch. The games are long and slow, with big pauses between the action and often not much excitement going on. Pitchers readjust their gloves and stance for hours. Batters take 100 practice swings just to foul it off and do it all over again.
I can respect keeping the traditional pace and play of a baseball, but if the MLB won’t speed up the games themselves, they’ve got to speed up the season.
Almost every day I look down at my phone and get a notification about the Red Sox game score from that day, and it almost always means nothing to me. There’s just another game tomorrow, so why bother caring about the game today?
It’s only until the last few weeks of the six-month regular season that I might actually consider turning a game on. Even then, I’m probably only going to watch a couple of playoff games. That’s because they get the playoffs right; the MLB postseason harnesses the good aspects of the game and leaves the boring stuff in the dust.
In the postseason, I don’t even mind the long, slow, and drawn-out style of play, because, at the end of the day, the game means something. In the postseason, every game is incredibly high stakes. Aside from home-field advantage, regular season records are thrown out the window, and all that matters is winning that series. Every team and player is all in to win it, something that rarely happens during the regular season.
The issue with this rare baseball excitement is just that: IT’S RARE! Only dedicating one month to your postseason when you have over six months of regular season games makes no sense. Other sports leagues have adapted their model in an effort to increase attendance, viewership, and fan excitement.
The NBA implemented a play-in tournament, which occurs at the end of the regular season, giving more teams a chance to make it into the playoffs. While the MLB only brings 12 teams to the playoffs every year, the NBA, when counting the play-in tournament, brings 20 teams. More teams and more high-stakes, win-or-go-home games mean more fanbase engagement and excitement.
It might be easy to point to baseball tradition as a reason not to stray from their current model, but comparing players and teams between generations is already so difficult that holding off on making positive changes in the name of generational consistency isn’t going to cut it.
If so many aspects of sports change between generations: fan engagement, number of teams, medical technology, dietary and health knowledge, then why doesn’t it also make sense to update the league’s model?
If baseball can shorten the season and harness some of its exciting, playoff energy during the spring and summer, a casual fan like me might be inclined to tune in more.