Friday, October 30, 2009

A Past Time Past its Prime

For most of the 20th Century, baseball was America's sport. It was tradition to go to the ballpark and watch the game; and eat a hot dog while singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." Players like Mickey Mantle and Lou Gehrig were legends and dominated talk around town throughout the year.

As time has progressed, baseball has taken a back seat to many new, high intensity sports. The emergence of the NFL and NBA has drawn people away from baseball. Basketball and football have speed and tempo; and big name athletes that can dominate games at any given second. Fans of baseball stars don't get to experience this star power because their players are only batting in about a third of the innings or pitching once an inning for sometimes half the game. You can't turn on the TV and watch a star be a part of every single play in baseball.

It has become increasingly difficult for sports fans to pick up the remote to even turn on the World Series or know who is still in the playoffs. With today's sports fan being driven by entertainment and speed, baseball has simply lost its edge. While attendance at baseball games is still high due to the ballpark experience, TV ratings have suffered detrimental hits. While there will always be fans out there that hate the Yankees, there are few teams in baseball that hold the power or reputation to even be worth talking about once your hometown team is out of the mix. Some teams don't even have high profile stars. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays, for example, have a well-balanced lineup from top to bottom and are becoming a successful franchise; but they lack the big names to draw country-wide attention.

Another thing hurting interest in baseball is the replacement of baseball in kids' youth by sports like skateboarding, lacrosse, and soccer. While you will still find t-ball leagues across the country, there has been a big transition from baseball to these sports. Every year it seems that these sports elicit more and more interest and participation.

Furthermore, baseball's series of issues with steroids has hurt its reputation as a sport built on tradition and history. Many of the old records have been destroyed by modern players who take steroids. Mark McGuire broke the home run record (70) for a season; but is later sitting in front of Congress facing accusations of using human growth hormones. Barry Bonds broke McGuire's record with 73 HR's and then the all-time HR record; but again falls into the same position as McGuire and has a big asterisk put next to his name by many sports fans. Players like Bonds and McGuire hardly hit home runs in their younger years, and in recent years you could find them all buffed up and jacking bombs like they're hitting a golf ball with a baseball bat. The biggest problem is it isn't just these big stars using steroids. It has almost became a norm in the league today to use steroids for increased salaries and popularity. However, when players get caught, it doesn't just bring their career down, but rather they brings down the reputation and name of MLB with them.

The issue is what can be marketed to fans to bring baseball back? Can you market stars who use drugs? Can you market successful franchises without big names? How do you market a slow paced game of little scoring and variety? There are a few marketing strategies that seem to be yielding success for MLB. One strategy is individual teams that use campaigns to increase hometown support. The Detroit Tiger's executed a "Who's Your Tiger?" campaign that encouraged fans to associate with a player that also helped them connect with the game. A second idea is to continue to make the broadcasts of games more exciting. Slow motion cameras in between pitches, in-between inning interviews with managers, and sound bites seem to be reducing the struggle of fans sitting down and watch a three hour baseball game. without constantly flipping the channel. Overall, however, baseball truly has lost a step. The name of MLB has been tainted from steroids, young players are less abundant, and today's fast moving world has created a transition to fast, high flying sports action with big stars. Although marketing strategies may keep baseball dangling by a thread, it will never be the sport it was. But I guess if.... nope. Plain and simple, no matter how hard marketers and teams try, baseball is no longer "America's Past Time," and it is difficult to imagine it as America's future either.

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