When you are as big and successful of an entity as Major League Baseball – not to mention having decades of anti-trust protection behind you – you don’t get in the habit of having to convince your employees, the media and even your customers – the fans – of anything.
That time-tested approach is not currently working well on the subject of pace of game. New commissioner Rob Manfred has done a much better job of getting people angry about his initiatives than he has been able to explain what is behind them in a convincing manner.
He’s just not used to it, probably.
On the media side, we have people like MLB.com’s Tracy Ringolsby hammering away. The long-time baseball writer is distancing himself from unnamed peers while tweeting repeatedly on the issue with comments such as this:
“Is concern about length of games a media created issue? If fans are upset the attendance totals don’t seem to show it.”
Even worse, a highly-respected manager in Joe Maddon of the Chicago Cubs is taking aim, as well. Again, “the media” is the supposed bogeyman.
“What is the purpose behind the faster game?” Maddon rhetorically asked SI.com’s Tom Verducci. “I’m not really clear on that. So that, I don’t understand.
“To me, I think it’s more of a media kind of thing — probably deadlines at the end of the night based on more items being carried simultaneously as opposed to the newspaper the next day. It has to be tied into that somehow.
“Little Joey, 10 years old, wishes the game is four hours. I was wishing for extra innings every night. I never cared about how long a baseball game was. Listening to it on the radio or watching it on TV, [I was] hoping it goes longer,” Maddon said.
Now, let’s step back and consider motivations, starting at the top with Manfred.
I don’t believe for one second that the new commissioner cares what the media thinks about length of games. He cares about money – and the contracts his game are knocking down from the television networks are more staggering by the year.
My sense is that like any successful business, MLB is looking to the future. How will they continue to grow their revenues?
They likely have tons of market intelligence that slices and dices the opinions and behaviors of various demographic segments of their target audiences – factors like geography, income levels and the like. Yes, age is a big factor.
The data probably shows that MLB’s grip on fans’ wallets has a very strong correlation with an aging fan base. MLB likely understands that it is losing the interest of younger fans to other sports and wants to do something concrete about it.
By the time today’s “Little Joey” isn’t being taken to games by his Dad or Grandpa anymore and has to decide where to spend his entertainment dollar, it likely is not going to Major League Baseball.
If my experience talking with younger people is any indication, pace of game is a legitimate issue with many of them. I don’t know if it is number one or number 10 on the list of concerns, but I am pretty sure MLB does.
Even though I am personally not overly worked up about pace of game, I readily understand that my generation is not the target audience. We made our decisions on which sports to follow and how long ago.
I also know better than to try to oversimplify like Maddon is doing with his “Little Joey” reminiscing and Ringolsby is doing by citing yesterday’s attendance figures as supposed evidence that nothing should change for tomorrow.
Well-known people in the game like these two may have the pulpit, but that does not necessarily mean they are informed. Yet Maddon says he wants to understand, so why isn’t anyone telling him?
MLB needs to get off its rear end and explain to both the media and their own employees why they should care about what younger fans think before it is too late – assuming they have the data to back it up. And if I am wrong and they don’t, then they should either get their story straight or get off the issue completely.
For the record, Maddon recently celebrated his 61st birthday. In other words, he was 10 years old over a half century ago. Ringolsby is in his 40th year writing about baseball. By the time the “Little Joey” of 2015 is old enough to decide where to spend his hard-earned entertainment money, they’ll be long gone.
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