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Is America’s Pastime the Sport of the Future?

With other sports trending down, can baseball emerge from the pack and become Gen Z’s sport of the future?

MLB - Youtube

Its no secret that the sport of baseball has not had an easy go of it in the last decade.

For the last ten years baseball was buried beneath the generational stardom that seemingly every other sport pushed. Things just have not been able to click.

The best player of the last decade in the MLB, Mike Trout, has been stuck on one of the worst teams in that span: the Los Angeles Angels. The two biggest brands in the sport, the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers, have one World Series Title between them in the past fourteen years.

Despite throwing countless dollars toward free agents, it has been a parade of playoff heartbreak for the coastal giants. The gap baseball has to make up to reach the rest of the sports world has long seemed insurmountable. 

The End of the Reign

Messi joins Inter Miami
Lionel Messi received his jersey of Inter Miami in the welcoming party. Credit: Yes Market Media

However, while there is no shortage of viewers, the major sports have taken a slight dip in quality within recent years. The golden generation is aging out. 

Football had Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Peyton Manning. The NBA had Lebron James and Stephen Curry. The world of soccer had the two biggest athletes on the planet in Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. 

It isn’t just about stars, though. There is an argument that the entertainment factor has dipped as well. While scoring and yardage was at an all time high three years ago in the NFL, there has been a marked change. After peaking in 2020, points per game has dropped in three successive NFL seasons (according to statmuse). That is the first such occurrence since the turn of the century. 

Soccer is another perfect example. Due to inconsistencies with VAR (Video Assistant Referee), more pragmatic managerial tactics, and increasing visibility of corruption within the sport, fans are growing unruly. Let alone the fact that the two most beloved athletes, possibly in the history of the world, no longer reside at the top of the sport. 

Fallen Stars

Lebron James and Stephen Curry. Credit: Bleacher Report YouTube

The NBA, a famously star-driven league, is seeing the two pillars of its most superstar-laden era–Lebron James and Stephen Curry–age out. Both are playing at a high level, but are no longer the kings of the sport.

Who are the new kings? Overseas players that Americans are struggling to embrace the way they did Curry and James. Think Nikola Jokic, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokoumnpo, and Joel Embiid. While he put on a clinic in last year’s NBA Finals, Jokic did not intrigue American audiences enough to carry TV ratings.

ABC posted a 6% drop in ratings from the previous year, when the finals were headlined by two American stars in Jason Tatum and Steph Curry. 

Look at Tennis! It enjoyed a 15 year golden era. This period included the three greatest players in the sport’s history trading grand slam titles. Now the new guard, led by Carlos Alcaraz, is coming in. 

Times are changing quickly. Perhaps the drop in quality and aging out of superstars in other sports will open the door for baseball to reach a Gen Z audience. There is certainly room in the market. How are they going to capitalize?

The Pitch Clock

MLB Pitch Clock. Credit: MLB on YouTube

Step one of getting baseball back to competing with the big boys is creating a more entertaining product. More accurately, creating a less boring product.

One of the major gripes with the product the MLB puts out was time between pitches. Batters taking too many timeouts for too long. Pitchers took an eternity to select a pitch, get in the zone, and deliver. The pitch clock has been instituted in the MLB for a year now, and has seen mostly positive results.

According to ESPN, average MLB game time dropped 2:40 last season. Game times likely will continue to drop as players get more used to being on the clock. 

The timer comes relatively risk free. According to CBS Sports, a study at Johns Hopkins University concluded that there was no correlation to suggest that pitchers are being rushed into their pitches and therefore getting injured as a result.

This is a major win for the MLB, as innovations to make sports more entertaining can come with adverse health effects. 

Ohtani and the World

Shohei Ohtani. Credit: MLB on YouTube

In Shohei Ohtani, the MLB has their star! Their very own Messi, Lebron, or Brady! The face of the league for a generation (hopefully). Ohtani is one of a kind in the sporting world. He’s A player who can hit the ball 450 feet at any given moment. Oh, and he can also throw a complete game shutout. He is a master on the mound and at the plate. 

His Japanese nationality is key to the growth of the MLB, as Ohtani brings in massive foreign interest and viewership. The MLB is worried about jockeying for position amongst American sporting leagues. Ohtani has the power to make the world watch. 

And the MLB is bringing baseball to the world as well. According to the MLB, their Seoul Series drew in an estimated 17.7 million viewers. This number is up nearly 10 million viewers from the MLB’s last Asian international series, which was played in Japan in 2019. Such massive growth can largely be attributed to the presence of Ohtani, who has grown from myth to hero in that span. 

Ohtani is now a Los Angeles Dodger. With the power of one of the biggest PR machines in the MLB behind him, there’s no telling how far he can take the MLB. 

The…Savannah Bananas?

The Savannah Bananas represent a direct appeal to Gen Z. If you haven’t seen what they do, first of all check out this clip:

They are basically the Harlem Globetrotters for baseball. As you can see, their goals are maximum entertainment, zero lulls, and encouraging fan engagement. They take the most entertaining parts of baseball and push them forward, whilst cutting the fat. 

What’s more is the Savannah Bananas have taken this act on the road. They’re getting more and more people involved around the country (and now around the world). They show what the future of the sport can look like if the MLB (or another league) chooses to be so bold. 

Using Social Media to Score

The MLB season is long and monotonous. And yet, 30 social media teams are churning out content every day, regardless of whether their team is winning or losing. In order to keep a younger audience engaged, it is vital that MLB teams come up with creative ways to make social media even more entertaining than the game itself. 

One of the best teams in the MLB over the last five years, the Atlanta Braves, have put social media engagement to use in a fascinating way: through their mascot: Blooper. The @BlooperBraves account has over 150,000 followers on X, and is fully immersed in internet meme culture. 

The account is constantly quote-tweeting replies from fans, and exhibits typical X lingo. As far as direct fan engagement is concerned, the Blooper account does more for the Braves than their official social accounts, which do not regularly engage with fans. 

Baseball has long been hailed as “America’s Pastime” but in order for it to climb to the top and be America’s future, it has a long way to go. A lot of ground has been given up in the past decades since the steroid era.

Baseball league’s around the world need to recognize that this is an opportunity for them to harness the power of social media. It may require people in charge and a total facelift of the sport, but it is not impossible. 

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