Kids Are Losing Interest in Baseball: What to Do About It?
I grew up on baseball and still love it. But my younger son, who was a star athlete in high school and played varsity football for four years at Penn, finds it “boring.” I can’t relate to that. For me, the intervals of inaction create anticipation and suspense.
But he has a contrary view: “You stand around in the outfield waiting for a ball to come your way. The time between batters is forever. The balks. The pitcher’s windup. The whole game is just slow. I like action — and that’s why football is growing and baseball is declining. All the stats confirm it.”
I’ve listened to his point of view for years. I even understand it. But now comes an alarming survey from the National Sporting Goods Association, which says that, from 2000 to 2009, the number of kids aged 7 to 17 playing baseball has fallen 24 percent and, since 1996, participation in Little League has plummeted 25 percent. (I noted the survey in a Wall Street Journal article, “Has Baseball’s Moment Passed?” on March 31, 2011.)On the other hand, the article says, youth tackle football participation has grown 21 percent and hockey 38 percent during the same nine year period, and both soccer and lacrosse are now more popular than baseball.
Obviously, this is going to hurt baseball’s talent selection. So what should Major League Baseball do about it? In my opinion, MLB needs to conduct a public relations education campaign to regain mindshare and revive enthusiasm among youngsters for the game. As an armchair counselor to MLB, here are some thoughts:
• Possibly Game-Changing Research: MLB needs to set up a task force to survey youth on the aspects of the game that they don’t like, the changes that should be made to make the game more appealing and why kids are more attracted to other sports. There may be some great ideas among this constituency! Other research initiatives that could — and should — be undertaken by the MLB: best practices in other competitive sports (i.e., techniques that proponents of football, soccer and lacrosse are using to attract the best athletes) and a survey of Little League and high school coaches — as well as parents — on their perspectives. The more we ask, the better the chance we will find the jewels we are seeking. When the surveys are completed, it will be the task force who leads the changes.
• MLB Needs to Market Harder to Kids: If we are going to increase activity at the Little League level, MLB has to start a movement to woo kids back. The messages have to be right … and they have to sizzle. Then, once the research is completed, a message summit should be called and attended by representatives of each team, where a unified message program should be developed that all are comfortable implementing. Baseball’s attributes must match the values that the kids hold dear.
• Choose Communications Channels Carefully: Do a careful study of the channels most used by kids age 7 to 17. Social media is a given. But which social media are right and which are wrong? Everything from communities, contests, sponsorships, posters and online ads to mobile media, daily newspapers, and third party spokespersons – particularly a “rock star” who is truly cool — should be employed to deliver the message. Events are also critical. Multiple programs should be offered to kids — for example, “Kids Day,” a special opportunity three times each summer for kids to go onto the field and interact with players, to get their autographs and a souvenir ball.
Once the campaign is underway, MLB should carefully monitor the statistics to confirm that they are achieving the results they want. If the young player participation numbers are not going up after a year, it’s back to the drawing board to refine our game plan.