(Photo via the Flickr Creative Commons, seen here)
From an upwards swing in attendance to an upsurge in television viewership, all is well for our nation’s pastime, and in 2017, the World Series struck gold again with strong ratings for the second consecutive year with two big market teams.
After reading that opening statement you’re probably feeling encouraged about what’s to follow, but issues still exist. There is one underlying problem within the game of baseball: lack of exposure; forbidding a launch out from behind the NFL and rising popularity of the NBA. This creates a problem for people outside the realms of baseball to become involved and commit to the sport.
Former high school ball player and current Central State University sophomore, Micah Gabriel, voiced his concern on the current state of the sport.
“I didn’t know how fun the game actually was, and that’s the problem. At a young age in a predominantly black neighborhood, the only sports there were was basketball and football,” said Gabriel.
He continued, “It’s an exposure type of situation. From the outside looking in, it looked so long and boring. I could never watch it or get into it until I had the urge to do something new.”
Gabriel isn’t wrong. In certain communities throughout the country, baseball doesn’t have a huge impact on the youth. According to a study done by Sports Illustrated, baseball has the highest hold on viewers older than 55 years. With an age group that high, it suggests the sport is not doing enough to reach our youth; and the future of any sport always starts at the lowest level.
Another former high school ball player and current Michigan State University student, Devin McKinney, had similar remarks to what Gabriel had to say involving race and culture.
“I feel like a lot of black kids aren’t really exposed to baseball. Growing up I had to tell my dad I wanted to play baseball even though he was basically forcing football on me,” said McKinney.
“When you think of the most popular players of each sport, the majority of the black players are from the NFL and NBA. While the MLB is mostly white, so black kids really don’t connect and look up to people there,” said McKinney.
The real ethnic makeup of the MLB when it pertains to people of color is 42.5 percent, but only 7.7 percent are actually African American, according to mlb.com. The real ethnic makeup of fans of the MLB is 83 percent white, 9 percent black, and 9 percent Hispanic, according to a study done by Nielsen’s Year in Sports Media Report.
It’s no doubt that McKinney was dead on with the lack of representation, but it’s more about the communities and the people who choose not to broadcast the sport.
McKinney’s personal experience with his own high school’s lack of praise for the sport of baseball resonated with him.
“In black culture, football and basketball players get more praise for what they do. In high school we had no baseball field, yet the basketball and football court would get upgraded every year. We were the best high school in Detroit and they didn’t feel the need to supply us a proper field,” said McKinney.
“Baseball just doesn’t have the same pull towards the black community as other sports.”
This is not the fault of the major leagues or the NCAA, it’s the fault of the media and advertising. The sport of baseball is not pushed as hard as or broadcasted like its counterparts. Look at a television guide and you’ll see that baseball has less nationally televised games compared to the NFL and NBA.
That means even if you have cable TV, other than your local team you might not be able to see any other games being played; other sports have special weekdays and weekends dedicated to their sport. Baseball lacks representation to influence young people of color to commit to their sport in one of the most simple ways possible.
The marketing for baseball needs to focus on youth inclusion in all communities. Baseball needs to be marketed just as well as basketball and football.
Most young people use social media as a tool to interact with their favorite athletes, yet baseball only commands a following of 3.8 million followers across all major social media platforms, according to sports track maven. That’s quite a mass following, but not compared to the NBA’s 7.6 million and the NFL’s 4.6 million.
The stars of these other sports, for lack of a better term, are shoved down our throats. Every advertisement you see is a LeBron James Sprint commercial, Drew Brees FedEx commercial, or young uprising quarterback Dak Prescott in his Oikos yogurt commercial.
Where are the young stars of the MLB? Players like Mike Trout and Bryce Harper? Where are the players of color like Aaron Judge or the older Andrew McCutchen and Adam Jones?
If you want people outside the realm of the game to commit to the sport and gain that “it” factor that others possess, it starts at the lowest level.