2017 is a big year for Major League Baseball. The Cubs championship has introduced the game to new fans, the league is ripe with young stars, and for the first time in a decade it appears that the NFL’s rise in popularity has begun to level off. Baseball may not yet be “America’s Game,” but here are some reasons why I’m long on MLB.
Baseball, unlike football, is made to be consumed in person, not on television. A football game moves across your screen horizontally, most of the 22 players on the field are visible on screen and there’s a play every 30 seconds. Every field of play generally looks identical and uniform. As a television product it is nearly flawless, but not so much in person.
On a baseball broadcast the majority of the camera shots have 4 protagonists – the pitcher, the catcher, the batter, and the home plate umpire. Position players are rendered moot unless the ball is hit in their direction. Sitting in the stands gives an entirely different experience. You have the vantage point of the entire field and the unique traits and idiosyncrasies of each ballpark are on full display. The pace of the game allows for conversation between pitches – there isn’t a sense of urgency until the latter innings. This can take away from the intensity of the game but lends itself better to a relaxing experience with friends or clients. Live is now better, and baseball is much better live.
Baseball has young stars from diverse backgrounds. Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Mookie Betts, Andrew McCutchen, Giancarlo Stanton, Manny Machado, are all young, exciting, generational talents. They are ethnically diverse, and as the US continues becoming a more diverse country these stars become marketable to a new generation of fans. The NFL does not have anywhere close to this type of diversity amongst its stars.
Baseball does not have any of the long-term issues that plague football. It is by far the safest of the four major sports and has recovered from the Steroid Era of the 1990’s. Player safety is taken seriously and MLB has a very strict concussion protocol even though the number of concussions does not closely mirror those in the NFL. As a plus, ex-players are not lining up in droves to sue the league as they are with the NFL.
MLB is flush with cash. The regional TV network deals have changed the game. It’s no longer that case that only New York, Boston, and Los Angeles have TV deals: almost every team in MLB has one. Baseball will always be a viable television product because TV networks need content in the summer, which is the biggest chunk of the baseball season. Baseball doesn’t need to chase down every dollar – they can focus more on growing their game.
MLB has a commissioner in Rob Manfred who cares about the long term health of the game and is willing to make the changes that former commissioner Bob Selig would not. Do I even need to bring up the NFL’s commish?
Pace of play continues to be a vital issue. The world is getting increasingly faster, information is disseminated more quickly than ever, and for a while baseball was going in the opposite direction. In 2017 baseball will implement an automatic intentional walk – a small improvement but important one which shows the league’s willingness to try to speed the game up. Hopefully it is the first of many small improvements.
2017 will be a big year for MLB. TV Ratings were up 5% last year. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but considering the overall decline in TV viewership (the Olympics’ ratings were down 25% last year) any positive growth is a good sign. 2016 was the 11th highest year for the sport in average attendance – not a staggering number but once again positive. Under Rob Manfred’s guidance they should build on that momentum.
I’m giving the MLB a BUY rating.
Brian Cammarata lives in Los Angeles. He leads the VIP Services team at InviteManager, helping companies share events & experiences with their clients.