The idea for a sports/media/gambling column was hatched last summer and you can look for it every Wednesday. The column returns from a one-week hiatus. Send outrage to: Jmcintyre at thebiglead dot com.
Baseball’s audience has been skewing old for years, and as complaints about the game that used to be called America’s Pastime have piled up – too slow, too boring, too long of a season – MLB has done little to improve the game. Pace of game rules are just being implemented in 2015.
TV Ratings have been plummeting for decades, and Monday’s College Basketball championship game between Duke and Wisconsin generated a significantly higher viewership than Game 7 of the 2014 World Series (28.3 million to 23.5 million). This wasn’t the case 25 years ago: Game 7 of the 1991 World Series between the Twins and Braves pulled in 49 million viewers while the 1992 Title game between Michigan and Duke pulled in 34.1 million viewers, the second highest of all-time.
MLB is hardly struggling financially right now with the sports television rights boom, though the long-term audience trends are troubling. The Washington Post published a lengthy story recently about how baseball has lost the young fan, and the audience has reached the age of golf fans.
According to Nielsen ratings, 50 percent of baseball viewers are 55 or older, up from 41 percent 10 years ago. ESPN, which airs baseball, football and basketball games, says its data show the average age of baseball viewers rising well above that of other sports: 53 for baseball, 47 for the NFL (also rising fast) and 37 for the NBA, which has kept its audience age flat.
This chart, also from the Post, makes the info look even worse.
The Post goes on to show how behind MLB is on the social media front, an area the NBA is dominating. MLB has gotten plenty of love on social media for the first week of the season, but that’ll soon change when the NBA playoffs begin – especially on Twitter.
Also not mentioned in the Post piece is the shifting demographics within baseball, and how increasingly, many of the sport’s best young players are from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Cuba, and have encountered a significant language barrier when it comes to marketing and promoting them.
New MLB commish Rob Manfred has a massive challenge on his hands: How do we attract young fans? Just-shuttered MLB Fan Cave was not the answer. But, Manfred seems to have found a backdoor in: Daily fantasy games where money is exchanged and the house takes a cut. Sound like gambling? I think it is. Others do, too.
MLB recently announced an extension into a deal with Draft Kings, a fantasy sports gaming website. MLB now has a small ownership stake in the company. (Disclosure: USA Today owns Fantasy Score, a daily online fantasy gaming site.)
The demographics for fantasy sports in general–and the daily fantasy games in particular–would seem to be something that would interested MLB. Fantasy players in general tend to be male (80%), highly engaged online, and the coveted 25-34 age group has the largest percentage of players. Teenagers are the fastest growing demographic for fantasy players, and there is room for plenty of growth as those who play fantasy sports move into daily games (there is a general age requirement of 18 for daily fantasy, subject to jurisdiction).
I used to be an avid fantasy baseball player, and I enjoyed keeper leagues. I threw in the towel about five years ago, which is about when my interest in the sport waned considerably. (I still am in multiple fantasy football leagues; I’ve never really played fantasy basketball, but that’s been my favorite sport for probably 30 years.)
I really haven’t delved into the daily fantasy games – and yes, the word gambling needs to be in the sentence, because when the Washington Post and the New York Times and Wall Street Journal write about daily fantasy games, gambling is always mentioned – but I know a lot of people who do, and it actually gets them interested in baseball. Friends I know who couldn’t name 10 baseball players are partaking in daily fantasy games. Will that lead to them watching games and paying closer attention to the sport? That remains to be seen, but for avid gamblers, you’re probably going to pay closer attention to a sport you gambling on.
Now if MLB would only chop 30 games off the regular season and do something to help hitters the way the NFL has changed rules to help the offense …
MEDIA ODDS & ENDS:
So Turner had Rex Chapman doing the “Team Stream” during the Final Four for Kentucky. You may have noticed this. Chapman, of course, was arrested in September 2014 for allegedly stealing thousands of dollars worth of equipment from an Apple store, and then pawning them for cash. Police had him on camera doing it. Amazingly, no charges were filed in the case, for whatever reason (Chapman did go to rehab). A CBS TV announcer, Greg Anthony, was suspended indefinitely from TV after getting busted soliciting a prostitute. He hasn’t been on TV since the arrest, but his charges will be dropped if he does community service. If that doesn’t show you who has the upper hand in the CBS/Turner partnership … congrats are in order for announcer Charley Steiner … Charlotte columnist who has attended every Masters since 1955 will not be there this week … why do TV news anchors still matter? … man, people were really worked up about this column on the fiancee of Aaron Hernandez … pretty basic, obvious insight into the journalism world from Bill Simmons: Work harder than everyone else.
Which fairly popular sports TV host is said to have demanded a $300k pay raise during contract negotiations and yada, yada, yada, now said host is a free agent?