There is no doubt that the current MLB lockout is going to have a rippling effect through its fanbase as the lockout has affected everything from free agency signings all the way to the cancellation of Spring Training and regular season games. This has left a sour taste in a lot of fans’ mouths as the visual that most people are seeing is that it is a group of billionaire owners arguing with millionaire players over what else…money.
And now that we are halfway through March, more people are focused on crazy stats March Madness brings with it instead of seeing their favorite MLB players prepare for the upcoming season. But the MLB has been struggling to capture the attention and create growth amongst its fanbase for years. It just does not seem to have the holding power that the NFL and the NBA have. And sadly, it is their own fault.
Let’s look at their biggest issues in growing its fanbase.
Cost of Games
Fans understand that games are not going to be free but they also believe that it shouldn’t cost a month’s mortgage payment to go to a single game either. Attending live games is an experience that comes with having a beer and a hotdog and going home with a fun souvenir. And MLB teams completely see that and try to take advantage of that, but while they do that, they shoot themselves in the foot.
The lowest average cost of a game including a ticket, food, beer, and parking is for the Cleveland Guardians, which is around $50. That means for a family of four to go to a single game will cost around, if not more, than $200. And that’s probably not for great seats. With the schedule that MLB keeps, playing a minimum of six days a week, people can’t afford to take the family to every game of a homestand. In a 10 game homestand in Cleveland, that would be $2000 in one week!
MLB teams need to figure out how to offset prices with the experience that they are given when they enter the stadium. Relying on pure nostalgia of baseball history and experience is only going to get them so far at the ticket box.
Ah, this is where the real money is for MLB teams. Television contracts and broadcasting deals are worth hundreds of millions of dollars to team owners for their revenue. But the price will no doubt be passed down to the fans. In this case, it is either passed on by expensive membership costs like the Cubs’ Marquee Sports Network or fans are penalized with blackouts when their “local” team is playing on Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN.
Even MLB.TV does not allow you to watch your in market team through their service. No other of the big four professional sports blacks out as many games as the MLB does for millions of viewers in their home territories. But then they wonder why viewership is down on television and why they can’t keep people interested in the sport. It’s because many can’t easily get their favorite team in front of them on a regular basis, especially if they are just casual fans of the game.
Poor Player Marketing
MLB does an absolutely trash job at marketing their best players. Ask a ten year old kid who is playing Little League who their favorite player is and you will probably get a blank stare unless that kid is really, really into baseball. Ask them who the best basketball player in the NBA is right now and Lebron James or Steph Curry will come out of their mouth quicker than you can finish the question.
This is due to poor marketing strategies that create hype and excitement around the players. Some teams do a good job with it, like the Chicago Cubs during their latest surge in the late 2010’s. But there are not many national superstars that are known across the country where we get to know the player well. There are plenty of players that fit the bill, but poor marketing execution doesn’t give the younger generation of fans someone to root for and admire.