Nobody questions that the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees have fans across the planet, with the majority in North America. These fans are some of the most loyal, faithful people a team could ever hope to have.
But, is that a good thing?
This article is not meant to be filled with extensive research, as much as it is meant to be food-for-thought, calling on the hardcore and casual baseball fans to discuss their aging population, compared to other sports. A number of media platforms have recently reported the issue that young people may be looking elsewhere to spend their time.
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First, let’s look at Major League Baseball’s biggest fan bases. Bill Speros of Boston.com reported, a few days ago, that Red Sox Nation was the second biggest group of baseball fans, just below the New York Yankees, according to the 2015 Facebook Fandom Map. “Released ahead of Opening Day, the map is based on the number of users showing a preference for an MLB team, as determined by the metrics of the social media site. It shows the most popular team in each county nationwide and across Canada.”
Before all of the old baseball purists, who may not even have a Facebook page, start to spew the fact that it seems there is room for doubt about this survey’s accuracy, let’s just accept this information, for now. Here are the results:
"“The Red Sox land grab is comprised mostly of the Yukon-Koyukuk and Denali Boroughs [or Census Areas] in Alaska. They do not have “counties” in our 49th state. According to the U.S. Census, those two chunks of Alaska have just 7,468 people but cover a whopping swath of 158,256.2 square miles. That’s 59 percent of the size of Texas [261,231.71 square miles]. The remaining Red Sox-dominated land mass includes 69,841.84 square miles in New England, and more than 50,000 square miles of Utah, Idaho and Montana.” – Bill Speros, Boston.com"
From a quick perspective of the results, it looks like both the Yankees and Red Sox do most of border crossings into other states and even other countries. The Toronto Blue Jays could not stop Boston from taking a bulk of fans away from Quebec into Red Sox Nation.
This wide-spread fandom sounds great to both teams, at least on the surface.
However, from a different perspective, these teams are two of the oldest organizations in the sport. Both teams are rich in traditions, especially in their hate for each other. The fans are arguably more into the rivalry than the players, because they are brought up by previous fans to hate each other, like the Hatfields and the McCoys. When a Red Sox – Yankees game is on television, the fans watch, no matter what. When the Oakland Athletics are playing the Tampa Bay Rays, does that game get the same amount of fans watching?
Feb 24, 2015; Ft. Myers, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox owner John W. Henry signs autographs for fans at JetBlue Park. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
For sports to be a successful cash cow, it has to keep replenishing fans, who have past on, with younger fans, raised to continue the tradition. This concept often occurs because parents bring their children to games, buy them popcorn, a giant foam finger, and park them in their seats to watch what they will remember as one of the best family memories, ever. It also helps when the team is local, so when the kids go to school, they can brag to their friends that they saw the game in person, not just on television.
How will that happen if fans don’t live anywhere near the team? If everyone likes the two teams near the Atlantic, how does that help the teams in Minnesota, California, or Kansas? How can the league grow its fans when a kid is brought up to love the Red Sox in Oregon, but he or she can’t brag to their friends about it because they don’t care for the team?
The Washington Post‘s Marc Fisher reported, three days ago, that “since he took office this year, [Rob] Manfred has been sounding a startling warning bell: The sport must address its flagging connection to young people or risk losing a generation of fans.” Kids don’t see baseball the way we did or how our fathers and grandfathers (or mothers or grandmothers, for that matter) did. They don’t all want to play catch or watch a game on television. Some kids say it’s too slow of a game or they have better, more active, things to do, regardless of their naivety of judgement:
"“According to Nielsen ratings, 50 percent of baseball viewers are 55 or older, up from 41 percent 10 years ago. ESPN, which airs baseball, football and basketball games, says its data show the average age of baseball viewers rising well above that of other sports: 53 for baseball, 47 for the NFL (also rising fast) and 37 for the NBA, which has kept its audience age flat.” – Marc Fisher"
When children watch sports, they have a desire to emulate the ‘heroes’ they see on the screen. What’s there to emulate if they don’t look up from their cell phones or video games?
Some children find it more pleasurable to play vicariously through a fictional character than to physically exert themselves. However, that data shows that baseball is the one severely suffering. The NFL fandom is aging, too, but at a slower rate, while the NBA seems to have a way of keeping the children interested. Why can’t baseball hook the kids to play and to watch?
Mar 10, 2014; Fort Myers, FL, USA; Wally the Green Monster performs at JetBlue Park. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
More and more, children are taking other options when thinking about what pastimes they want to have. We should think of these two reports and put them together. Does the fact that Red Sox Nation and Yankee fandom are spreading so wide that it is helping to cut off growth in the game? If the children cannot bond with their local team, because Dad loves the Red Sox and wants little Johnny to follow in his footsteps, is that pushing children from baseball altogether? How much of it is technology’s fault, when other sports seem to be doing better than baseball in keeping the children interested? Does Wally, the Green Monster, have to sing on The Voice to be hip enough for them?
Again, this article is simply meant to raise questions, and not to prove anything. These questions, however, may not be asked in the future, if there are no baseball fans, anymore, to read them.
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