MLB's Rule changes have rocked the sport of baseball in 2023. Under the changes announced by Major League Baseball, players must adapt to a new pitch clock of 15 seconds and 20 seconds when there are runners on base. To spark offense, bigger bases have been implemented to the sport, and there are hefty restrictions on the defensive shift. Two infielders must be positioned on either side of second base when the pitch is released, and all four infielders must have both feet within the infield when the pitcher is on the rubber.
To many, these changes are only a welcome sign of change as baseball looks to adapt to the lessened attention spans of the modern world. To others, these changes spell doom for the sport and serve as a betrayal to a mostly older audience.
Major League Baseball has mainly gained its legitimacy in the American sports landscape by building the product over a considerable length of time. Records, history and nostalgia mean much to the game, and there is definitely a space for these elements to remain around as baseball tries to adapt to the modern space.
America's Pastime Attempts to Change the Game
Yet, as baseball moves into 2023, it has been falling behind other sports, and the league needs to make a move in order to keep up. The sport has an older demographic, made up of many fans who are in their 50s and 60s. This isn't all bad, but it also means that the game will fail to grow into the future, as the majority of fans will eventually pass and the younger fans won't exist to replace them.
This hypothesis has been supported by the fact that MLB has seen declining interest over the years. Physical fan presence at the games has been a rising issue. Looking at the 2022 regular season, MLB saw a 5.7% decline in attendance from the 2019 season. This sharp decline has been a part of a larger trend, as the league has seen a decline in attendance in nine straight seasons.
Baseball's premier features haven't been making up the difference. People aren't just staying at home to watch instead of coming to the stadium. Instead, they are opting out altogether. The World Series, the best spectacle of the baseball season, saw another concerning rating posted after the 2022 Fall Classic between the Houston Astros and Philadelphia Phillies. Only 11.78 million viewers were watching on Fox on average, with 12.03 million viewers including the streaming world and Spanish channel. Overall, the rating was among the lowest of all time and much less than the best average for a World Series, which occurred in 1978 when 44.2 million viewers on average watched the Yankees play the Dodgers.
Though it is true that television viewership has been on the decline for everyone, the National Football League has managed to adapt, showing that baseball is more to blame than outside conditions. The most recent Super Bowl, held in Phoenix, Arizona, between the Chiefs and Eagles, drew near-record viewership. With a total of 113.1 million viewers, the Super Bowl almost broke its record of 114.4 million viewers in 2015.
Baseball's Necessary Shake-Up
At this point, it is rather obvious that baseball needs some change. Surely, the sport risks throwing away some of its revenue from older fans who may not like the changes to the game. The risk is especially important to note considering how much baseball's records have meant to its popularity. One of the better times to watch the sport is when a hitter, such as Barry Bonds, is chasing the home run record or a pitcher is trying to become one of the few to throw a perfect game.
With new rules, new records will be affected, forever changing how records will be seen in the eyes of some viewers. The shift, for example, will benefit new batters and will change how they stack up against previous players who didn't have this advantage.
In this case, MLB will have to throw caution to the wind. There is no more time to waste. Other American sports such as basketball and football have grown among the younger generations, and somehow America's pastime has not.
While it is true that baseball may lose some current fans in its effort to change the image of the game, the fans of today won't exist tomorrow, and there will be an opportunity to make up for that loss. Without the fans of tomorrow, however, baseball will cease to exist as a major sport in America sooner rather than later.
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