Baseball slow motion woes: Millennials will have nothing of it

Posted On April 6, 2017

When the Chicago Cubs finally broke a 108-year championship drought and won the World Series last fall, cheers went up around the country from Cubs fans frustrated by decades of ineptitude.

Many millennials, however, might not have noticed. Baseball is a Baby Boomer’s game.

While revenue and attendance are reportedly holding steady, baseball’s fan base is aging. According to Neilsen ratings cited by the Washington Post, half of baseball viewers are 55 or older, up 41 percent from a decade ago. The average age of a Major League Baseball fan is 53, according to the Post, older than the NFL (47) and NBA (37).

Baseball is also struggling to attract Generation Z, or iGen, as players, too, as today’s top high school athletes are increasingly gravitating toward basketball, football or soccer.

Why is baseball losing the younger generations? Mostly because many of them find it boring.

Austin Albericci, a 15-year-old who lives in New Jersey, put it this way to the Post: “Baseball is a bunch of thinking, and I live a different lifestyle than baseball. In basketball and football, you live in the moment.”

Max Kaplan of Princeton Sports Analytics, who refers to himself as “The voice of the millennial sports fan,” created a metric to illustrate the point – the Baseball Boredom Index. Kaplan defines the BBI as “how many minutes you have to wait, on average, until something happens in a baseball game.” And according to his calculations, it has been slowly rising since roughly forever.

I must admit, as a card-carrying Gen-Xer, that I find baseball nearly unwatchable on television, as well – though I enjoy watching the game in person. The slow pace of the game is relaxing when you can lounge in a stadium seat with a beer, a box of popcorn and nothing else to do for the next three or four hours.

But for millennials who have grown up with instant information (the internet) and instant communication (texting and social media), baseball’s slow pace is less tolerable in any medium – in person or on TV. While the batter steps out of the box, adjusts his grip on the bat and scratches himself yet again between pitches, Jimmy Millennial has checked his Instagram feed, sent a couple of texts, updated his Twitter profile and ordered a new TV on Amazon.

Major League Baseball is doing what it can, enacting changes in 2015 to speed up the pace of play, but it’s not enough. It can shorten, but never get rid of, the frequent stoppages of play inherent to the sport.  Perhaps they should have the managers play Xbox on the big screen between innings? Make the outfielders do a dizzy bat race to their positions every time they come on the field?  Require pitchers and batters to do yoga or a gymnastics routine between pitches?

Baseball is and will always be a leisurely sport compared to football and basketball. And the younger generations are moving too fast to slow down for it.

The Cubs finally ended the Billy Goat Curse. But MLB’s millennial problem continues on.

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Categories: Generation Y / Millennials