We all know the feeling: waking up to the smell of freshly cut grass in early April as the days progressively get warmer and warmer; listening to the sounds of birds returning from their reprieves down south as they prepare for yet another spring season; sharing in the feeling of mutual excitement between you and your neighbors as the days get longer knowing summer is near; and, of course, the overwhelming jubilance you experience when the long-awaited return of Major League Baseball finally arrives. But not this year. Where was the excitement this year?
The start of the 2021 baseball season, unlike most others in the past, simply did not have as much energy or anticipation surrounding it. Everyone just sort of woke up on the morning of Thursday, April 1, and boom — there was baseball! This lack of excitement was not due the absence of intriguing storylines surrounding notable players or teams. In fact, this offseason was more exciting and saw more action than most others in recent memory. So then why? What was missing this Spring?
This obvious scapegoat for a majority of the world’s woes in the Year of our Lord 2021 cannot be ignored when trying to figure out why MLB’s season opener did not excite the usual crowds. The pandemic has forced us all to make drastic adjustments to our lives over the past twelve months, and this of course includes how we consume digital entertainment. Over the past year, more people than ever before have started to rely on streaming services such as Disney+, HBO Max, Netflix, Hulu, and the like to view TV shows and movies. As the mass audience’s entertainment preferences shift away from live content and more toward riveting multi-episode productions, professional sports leagues such as MLB suffer.
The Lack of a Strong Digital and Social Media Presence
As platforms such as TikTok, Youtube, Instagram, and Twitter become more popular among younger demographics, Major League Baseball continues to lose out on opportunities to expand its brand to new audiences. The official MLB accounts do post relatively intriguing content on Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok. However, these posts mainly revolve around highlight packages and do not captivate viewers in a way that would necessarily inspire them to actually watch the games live.
The lack of mainstream influencers discussing baseball on these platforms truly undermines to the sport’s popularity. Other major American professional sports, especially the NFL and NBA, have a wide variety of influencers producing compelling content on Youtube and TikTok that further popularize these sports. By contrast, MLB struggles in this media channel. Sure there are Youtubers such as Marc Luino, Fuzzy, and Jomboy who make wonderful videos on the sport, but their content simply is not as entertaining as those made by creators following the NBA and NFL, which is reflected in the size and scope of their audiences.
Moreover, the fact that hardly any players, especially those of note, have a sizable social media presence is yet another factor explaining why the sport has had so little buzz surrounding it this year. Arguably the game’s two best players, Mike Trout and Mookie Betts, have virtually zero sway on social media and really do not post very often. Their online personas are simply quite dull, making it challenging for fans to connect and interact with them on social media.
The Lack of Excitement the Game Generates
As the three true outcomes – home runs, strikeouts, and walks – become ever more prevalent and fewer balls are put into play than ever before, people simply do not possess the desire to sit down and watch a baseball game. The home run is, of course, an extraordinarily exciting play, but the excitement it generates is relatively brief – a few moments of celebration as the hitter rounds the bases. The lack of small ball and consistent action on the base paths – action that would keep viewers engaged if there were more of it – is a true detriment to the sport. Finally, the aversion to base stealing, for fear it is not the most efficient analytics play, is one of the game’s biggest flaws today. People tune into sports to watch speed and athleticism, and as the game of baseball moves away from those aspects of its sport, so too will people start to move away from the game of baseball. In fact, they already have.