Thesis: In order to connect with a younger fan base and improve ratings the MLB needs to make a further push into their collaborations with startups and develop their national storylines to expand local markets.
With declining fandom, ratings, and fans aging, the MLB is on a mission to turn things around and bring the game of baseball back to its foundations. For a number of reasons kids and younger audiences are more invested in other sports or readily available entertainment. As a first step, the MLB realized there is a direct correlation between game length and TV ratings – even in the playoffs. An average of 13.8 million viewers watched the seven-game World Series between the Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants last year, 16% less than the last seven-game World Series in 2011, and 44% less than the seven-game series in 1997 (WSJ).
A major cause of these declining ratings stems from the fact that kids are choosing alternative entertainment and the average age of a post-season MLB viewer is 55 years old (40 for the NBA). To aid these declining ratings, the league has altered its long-established rules slightly to increase its pace with shorter time between innings, pitches, and forcing players to keep a toe in the batters box. While this is a strong start to appealing to a younger audience and solidifying its place as a major sport, the results of shortened games will be marginal. In order to connect with a younger fan base and improve ratings the MLB needs to make a further push into their collaborations with startups and develop their national storylines to expand local markets.
Just like every other industry and marketplace, the MLB is beginning to look into collaborating with startups focusing on sports technology. Again, the results will most likely be marginal as the Los Angeles Dodgers explore public fitness tracking for fan engagement – but it is a concept well worth exploring. A part of it will be for internal purposes but CFO Tucker Kain hopes it could be rolled out to the public. Kain stated, “We want to track health and diagnostics of the team to keep them healthy, but also we want to make sure there’s an ability to scale and bring that data to fans.” When looking at post-season attendance, even the worst NFL attendance in a week is higher than that of a world series MLB game. Although largely due to stadium size, Rob Manfred attributes a lot of post-season troubles with TV ratings to the inherent locality of markets. When your team doesn’t make it to the post-season, fans have no motivation to watch other teams play on the national stage. To fix this, the MLB has to work on their national storylines of players and teams to engage fans. At the end of the day, these two pushes by the MLB could help their struggles with young fans and the alterations to the game will help TV ratings, but there will always be a sure way to fix those issues: winning.