Major League Baseball is on the cusp of something big. Whether it is the bursting of a looming bubble from overwhelming television contracts to pricing casual fans out of the ballpark with substantially high, overpriced contracts for aging stars.
While the Boston Red Sox-St. Louis Cardinals World Series ratings were up by 17 percent from the year prior, nearly 809,000 fewer people attended MLB games last year than the year before. Additionally, the National Football League continues to trump the MLB when it comes to viewer ratings.
Some easy guesses as to why baseball is failing in the P.R. department hinge on negative reflections regarding the steroids era, the current performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) debate and overall disinterest.
Another interesting angle to take on is the demographics of baseball. The United States is becoming more and more diverse and after 2030, the non-Hispanic white population is expected to decline. With diversity growing on a macro scale nationally, why is it that diversity is lagging in MLB, especially among the black population?
A question such as this is not easy to tackle. MLB has various initiatives to make the game of baseball more diverse, such as Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) and MLB's Urban Youth Academy. Even Little League Baseball has its own Urban Initiative.
In my opinion, the problem stems from marketing. The National Basketball Association and NFL do a great job with its marketing schemes. On a national level, folks know who the 'Big Three' are in the NBA. They also crave the headline NFL match-up's between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, Colin Kaepernick and Drew Brees. The brilliant minds within the NBA and NFL continue to out-lap the MLB in marketing.
Therefore, here are ten proposals to make MLB more intriguing to the casual fan. Some of these ideas may be new to you, some may not be. But it is about time that we have dialogue on how to get the casual fan more in tune with America's national pastime.
1. Play the World Series at a neutral site
Back in September, super-agent Scott Boras proposed playing the first "two games to start the World Series in a warm-weather climate and/or dome." Let's take Boras's proposal a step further. How about playing an entire World Series at a neutral site? Imagine planning an autumn trip to Miami, Arlington, Phoenix or San Diego for the Fall Classic? It would add further intrigue in similar fashion to the NFL's Super Bowl.
2. Have the Home Run Derby at the World Series
This was also proposed by Boras. If a prelude or ceremony to kick off the World Series at a neutral site were to occur, why not have the game's best hitters, who happen to not be in the World Series, swing for the fences there? It would create a more anticipatory atmosphere in which fans would be more excited for the World Series. Also, as Boras explained, it would allow MLB's best hitters to "compete and not have to worry, as they do now at the All-Star Game, about ruining their swings for the rest of the season."
3. More day-night doubleheaders
Double-header's are a staple of baseball. Unfortunately, MLB rarely allows them to be scheduled unless they are in conjunction with a make-up or delayed game. More doubleheader's would allow for a slight belt-tightening of the protracted MLB season. One double-header for each club, every two weeks between the months of May and August would suffice.
4. MiLB-MLB doubleheaders
What if MLB scheduled doubleheaders that pitted Triple A team's versus one another in the day game and the MLB clubs in the night game? So long as MLB doesn't ramp up the cost of the ticket, it would be intriguing to watch the potential stars of tomorrow early while watching the big leaguer's later on. Marketing-wise, it would introduce the casual fan to fun and witty Minor League team's such as the Vermont Lake Monsters, Las Vegas 51s, Richmond Flying Squirrels and Lehigh Valley IronPigs. The doubleheader could come to include not just Triple-A contests, but games between teams from all levels of the farm system, so long as they are in the same developmental level.
5. Introduce the Designated Hitter to the National League
While many throwbacks will hate this idea and invoke the need to do the inverse, I think this would be a good idea. The American League gets it right by not mandating the pitcher to hit. The National League is still decades behind in this regard. While power hitter's seem to be on short supply, it would still improve the lot of hitting in the NL by not giving opposing pitchers a seemingly 'easy out' when the nine-hole batter steps to the plate. Sure, Yovani Gallardo, Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke can hit but they are not the rule, they are the exceptions to the rule.
6. More instant replay changes
It appears likely that a challenge-type replay system is coming to MLB for 2014 but that might not be enough. How about a mobile-integration for the umpires in baseball. For this to happen, a mobile tablet such as an Apple iPad should be housed in the home dugout. As soon as a close call is challenged, the umpires gather with the tablet, review the call instantly while on the field, and make their decision. Increase the proposed challenge tally from two to five manager challenges per game and integrate a rule where managers lose a challenge should they storm the field in protest. This would decrease the likelihood of slowing down the game.
7. Timing system for pitchers
I guess this would be similar to the shot clock in basketball. A pitcher will get a preset amount of time to throw his pitch. Should he continue to let his arm dangle while shaking off the catcher and time expire, a loud horn will echo throughout the ballpark's speaker system. The man in the batter's box is allowed to take first base. All other runner's on base, if any, move up one base as well. This would alleviate the pain of watching Jonathan Papelbon and Rafael Betancourt on the mound.
8. Managers and coaching staff don't have to wear uniforms
This might not prove to be much of a factor in getting more people to the ballpark but it matters. Who wants to see aging men in tight baseball pants strutting around the ballpark? I think it is safe to assume that a generational gap would exist in this proposal. However, it would be just fine if skippers were allowed to wear khaki pants with polo shirt's and an MLB-licensed hat to the ballpark. It would also give MLB more items to market as the camera pans to Clint Hurdle chewing bubble game while donning the latest Pittsburgh Pirates polo shirt and hat.
9. More International Contests
Since baseball is no longer a participating sport within the Olympics, how about we see more contests between the like's of American pro teams and pro teams from Japan, Cuba, Korea and other countries? These could take place during Spring Training in MLB ballparks. Sure, it might drive attendance down at Spring Training sites but it would help boost revenue somewhat elsewhere. Any way in which we could instill a sense of national pride via a proxy such as baseball is a good thing. By the way, the World Baseball Classic is a flawed event.
10. Shrink the season
Implementing more doubleheaders is a means for shortening the length of the season by days but how about we see MLB cut the number of games down by 10, 20 or even 30? As vile as this may sound, it might do baseball some good. Today's social media-inspired society lives in the moment. It doesn't have time to sit around and wait. The culture is predicated on what is happening now, not three months from now. Any proposal of shrinking the number of games played is considered blasphemous but it must be considered for the better of the game.