Image Credit: Phillyfan0419
Tonight, for the first time, Major League Baseball will be streaming a game live and free on YouTube, the game sees the Los Angeles Dodgers travel to the Philadelphia Phillies. The Dodgers come into the game sporting the best record in the league with 64 wins and 34 losses (64-34), meanwhile the Phillies didn’t get off to the best start this season, but have recovered to currently be 49-47, 8.5 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the National League East.
This game is the start of a 13 game deal between Youtube and MLB that will finish before the start of the Playoffs. Other games announced for July are the Cleveland Indians @ Toronto Blue Jays and the Detroit Tigers @ Los Angeles Angels.
This has come in a year of changes for MLB, robot officials are calling strikes in development leagues, the introduction of the London Series and the debate over whether balls have been ‘juiced’ encourage more home runs. All are an attempt to bring fans back to the ballpark, in recent years baseball has been declining in the US and around the world and all of these measures (if you believe MLB is juicing up balls) are designed to bring fans to the sport by making the more technologically advanced and more exciting, as well as trying to expand into new markets.
The most elusive market for MLB though has been young adults and teenagers. The average age of a baseball fan is 57, the highest of any of the four major North American sports. MLB’s answer in the last few years has been that younger fans are just far too distracted for the game and that their attention spans are too short which would mean no change would be necessary. However, this move shows that MLB are making an effort to put their games on a website that naturally skews a younger audience. If you can’t get them to come to the game, you bring the game to them. This could be the first of many signs that MLB is noticing that there are ways to try and get their younger fans, instead of blaming younger individuals and doing nothing, they are now doing something. It’s also advantageous to YouTube, as a company that pushes their TV streaming abilities with the introduction of YouTube Originals and other live sporting events, the introduction of live MLB games will mean they can show off their streaming abilities to other sports leagues that might not turn their noses up if YouTube makes a bid in the future. If YouTube is going to compete in the future in the arena of Netflix and Amazon Prime, then major sporting events would be a big help.
Is this going to draw younger fans in though? I would guess no. The reason young people are not going to baseball isn’t because its not accessible, the NFL and NBA are much preferred by younger fans and yet they are not on YouTube and have no problems with getting younger audiences to flood to them in droves. The issue is the length of games, it’s hard to keep constant attention on a game that lasts for an average of three hours, where the majority of the game is pitchers and batters getting ready for the next pitch. The first game in London lasted 4 hours and 42 minutes. The average time of a game is constantly rising as advanced analytics means we get to a full count more often than not and with batters trying to aim for home runs and walks, we are also getting less in-field action which makes the game more boring to watch.
To MLB’s credit, commissioner Rob Manfred has admitted that the games are too long and that something has to be done in 2019, so far that has not happened, but, the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem, right? However, owners of teams are not all on board and don’t particularly need to be, because whilst fan attendance is declining, TV deals are rising. The bottom line is still strong, even for teams like the Tampa Bay Rays, whose stadium always looks like it has just been evacuated.
Whilst profits are fine and teams can still justify paying $430 million for Mike Trout, owners will not respond. But the league needs to, because these young audiences are going to be who television companies are chasing in the coming years, and if baseball can’t attract them then. The bottom line is going to be shrunk significantly, and at that point, any changes will be too little, too late.