While football and basketball are now the most popular and financially successful of the four major professional sports leagues, Major League Baseball appears to be rallied. Last week, MLB said revenue for the 2022 regular season, with 62 American League home runs by New York Yankee slugger Aaron Judge, would surpass the $10.7 billion it reported in 2019 — the last full season before pandemic interruptions.
The league also signed new TV contracts with ESPN and TBS for this season, and next year teams will display advertising patches on uniforms for the first time. However, the park’s attendance numbers continue to decline for nine years and MLB follows the NFL, NBA and English Premier League in annual TV/streaming revenue and average team value.
Stephen A. Greyser, the Richard P. Chapman Professor Emeritus of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, studies brand marketing and communication. Greyser pioneered the academic study of sports, helping to develop the first sports business course at a major business school in the early 1980s. He spoke to the Gazette about MLB’s finances and prospects. Interview has been edited for clarity and length.
GAZETTE: How healthy is Major League Baseball’s business these days?
GREYSER: They’ve countered some of the erosion on the financial side. But if you look at what the NFL simply does on the basis of television contracts, those annual amounts are dwarfed by any of the numbers you just mentioned, including everything for baseball. Baseball can bounce back to some degree, but at the end of the day, it still suffers from tempo problems, underplayed balls and attracting younger fans.
GAZETTE: The product on the pitch is just too slow and boring for younger fans compared to say the NBA?
GREYSER: I’m not saying it’s slow and boring, especially for expert fans. I’m saying the pace won’t attract a more action-oriented, younger audience. Looking at baseball’s business appeal, it’s hurt by the pace of the game; it hurts because hitting the ball is less of a factor compared to strikeouts or running.
The American League batting champion had its lowest average in decades this year. Carl Yastrzemski, or as he is known locally, “Cahl” Yastrzemski, after his great 1967 season (one of the best seasons an individual ball player has ever had) when he won the Triple Crown, in 1968, he hit .301 – the lowest average ever for a batting champion. This year, no American League batter hit more than .315.
GAZETTE: So the decrease in fouls hurts the game?
GREYSER: The lack of operational violations. This means, yes, there are home runs, but the excitement of the game for many fans, perhaps even most fans, is a ball being struck between the fielders with multiple runners on the bases, like a ‘bases-clearing double’ . In general, if attendance revenues are back where they were before the pandemic, and if television revenues are up, and if they’re going to have bets, which will always increase earnings or relationship revenues, wherever they are, that’s positive. stuff.
GAZETTE: The league has made a number of rule changes in recent seasons to try to speed up and make competitions more exciting, and plans to introduce more next year. Will any of them help?
GRAYSER: The designated batter in both leagues is something that will probably appeal to younger audiences because it allows for more action and less slow pace. The pitch clock helps with that. I prefer a “batter bell” – meaning a batter may only step out of the penalty area once during his at bat. Some batters step out after each pitch, pull on their batting gloves, and go back in. That’s a total waste of fan time. Infielder Betting Restrictions can help on offense (e.g. on the left/right side of second base and not in the outfield). But I consider limited use of infielders to be highly ineffective in terms of anyone who knows the nature of the game. If a batter is good enough, he will find a way to bat around a serve. It’s up to each batter to earn his own hits. That idea is basically artificially inflating batting averages. Separately, the more balanced schedule will definitely help turnout, especially when attractive visiting players come to your stadium.
GAZETTE: In recent years, football in the English Premier League and Formula 1 racing, two European sports, has grown significantly among Americans under 40. Is baseball effectively marketing the game to reach this important target audience for advertisers and win over this potential new generation of fans?
GREYSER: They do quite a bit, but remember that baseball is primarily a local game. Much of that promotion is done in every single city. Whether done by the individual club or by the league, most league promotions are done during their own matches. The Premier League, in particular, has succeeded in making every game available on American television. Other sports are also visible, including mixed martial arts and e-sports.
Baseball could definitely get more promotion with their young stars. They tend to leave it up to the individual teams.
It will be interesting to see what they do with home run champ Aaron Judge. They’ve had those opportunities with Mike Trout and others like Mookie Betts. When the Los Angeles Angels came here and Shohei Ohtani threw and punched, it was a big draw for fans. But the individual sports stars we see most often tend to come from football and basketball. One of the indicators of a sport’s popularity is the most popular athletes. You won’t find many baseball players high on that list.
GAZETTE: Sports gambling is now legal in most states. Massachusetts is expected to allow it in early 2023. When people have money for games, they tend to pay more attention to that sport. Do you expect sports betting to influence the popularity of baseball?
GREYSER: My own feeling is that it remains to be seen to what extent betting becomes a meaningful in-game proposition – where you can bet on whether someone will lash out or get a run home or how many men are going to come to the base this inning. Whatever appeal it has, it might take two or three years to figure out whether betting is a medium to long-term phenomenon or something that could be considered all the rage. I also think that when betting is endemic to any sport, it raises the bar for player safety and respect for the integrity of the game.
I won’t make any predictions, other than I would say baseball is working hard to try and recover the revenue side and the visitor side. It is complicated to determine what a trend is. I would just say they work hard and they understand what to do.
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Provided by Harvard Gazette
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