Where the @#$% is Everyone? Part II: Twinkie Twinkie Little Star, How I Wonder Where You Are – Twins on Wheat; Add mayo

Who cares. A common phrase I hear more and more often. Did you hear about the Carlos Correa fiasco? Who cares. Do you think Dansby Swanson is worth the money and years he received? Who cares. Did you see the new rules for this year? Who cares. This feeling of apathy loomed over most of the conversations I tried to have about baseball while home for the holidays, and when I was done sipping eggnog out of frustration, I came back to Iowa for some more of the same. To them, the upcoming ‘who gives a damn’ bowl that the Hawkeyes were playing in was far more interesting than the insane contracts being thrown about like money was going out of style (I’m talking to you Steve Cohen). The more time I spend trying to talk baseball with those who aren’t as into it as myself, a truth harder than the plate in Carlos Correa’s leg becomes obvious to me. Baseball is failing to market itself properly to gain interest from both the average fan and potential young fans alike. There is no singular solution and I certainly don’t have all the answers. However, the lack of visibility for its star players, fun-killing unwritten rules, and media blackouts are all core issues that are eating away at the popularity of the sport.

Similar to the ‘who cares’ response I receive from folks a lot is the even simpler, ‘who?’ My mother-in-law, who is about as far from a sports fan as you can be and is from Texas, mentioned the huge contract that Dak Prescott signed with the Cowboys. I tried pulling the conversation towards baseball and followed up with the Aaron Judge contract and the insane amount of money and years dropped into the lap of a player already in his 30s. I expected her response to be related to the amount of money we pay to professional athletes, instead she said, “who?” That’s a problem MLB. Your star players need to be recognizable to the average person and need to be highlighted and promoted as such. Everyone knows who Lebron James or Tom Brady is, but not too many people outside of us baseball fans know who Aaron Judge, Fernando Tatis (I know…), or Bryce Harper are.

I think part of the issue is that there are unwritten rules in baseball that don’t allow its star players to show off their personality and become icons and known to the general public. The best example I can think of happened to Fernando Tatis (again, I know…) in 2021 I believe. The Padres were up big and the bases were loaded. It was 3-0 and Tatis got an absolute meatball and hit an epic blast. Four more runs. Afterwards, the cameras showed Tatis in the dugout getting chewed out for swinging 3-0 when his team was up big. He later apologized. APOLOGIZED. This infuriated me. One, why shouldn’t he swing? Two, he gets paid based on performance. Three, it gives his team a larger cushion. Finally, home runs are awesome and incredibly difficult to hit. Honestly, the odds are he would have gotten himself out (pace of play, you’re welcome). Not only that, but now you have taken one of the young and amazing talents in your sport, whom you wish to be one of the faces of the league (really, again, I know…) and reprimanded him for doing something exciting and scoring four runs for his team. Absolutely absurd. In contrast, the NFL lets Justin Jefferson do the griddy every time he scores and really shows off his personality. Baseball needs to start promoting their players better and do the same. Bat flips to the sky and pitchers screaming their heads off after a 3rd out strikeout? Yes, please.

Even if those unwritten rules erode, players become known, and fans are ready to put their butts in seats and couches to see it, there is the final issue… REGIONAL BLACKOUTS. This might be the most egregious offense of all. To watch an MLB game, you must do one of three things. One, buy cable in your region and spend well over 100 dollars on channels you don’t need or care about. Two, purchase MLB TV and hope you aren’t located in a market for whomever you are trying to watch (Iowa blocks Twins, Brewers, Cubs, White Sox, Royals and Cardinals by the way). Three, pay a king’s ransom in purchasing a ticket, food, parking, etc. to attend a game in person. This option is becoming insanely expensive when it doesn’t need to be. MLB makes the bulk of its money off media rights (hence the regional black outs forcing the purchase of cable) and attendance becomes less important each year. In fact, attendance has dropped every year since 2012, but revenue has been steady. With inflation, attending a game as a family of four is becoming almost impossible, which means fans need to be able to watch on TV. This, however, is incredibly difficult and expensive as well. I think the solution could be moving on from the regional markets and leaning into a streaming service with no blackouts. This would involve having different priced packages for how many teams you want to follow or if you want ads or not. There could be single, 10, 20, and 30 team packages.

By moving away from some of the unwritten rules that dampen a player’s personality, more stars worth watching will begin to emerge. If MLB can combine that with making the game easier to access and view, the youth will be drawn in by these exciting and vibrant players. This will result in kids becoming engaged with baseball at a young age and hopefully herald in a new age of baseball popularity. MLB needs to make the first move, however, and I don’t see them moving on from the regional sports networks that have been an absolute cash cow for them.

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