Major League Baseball faces a unique challenge among the major sports: celebrating its storied history while bringing in a new generation of fans.
MLB has the oldest fans among the major sports, with an average age of 57, according to a 2017 survey by Sports Business Journal. The average NBA, NHL, and NFL fans are 42, 49, and 50, respectively.
First on the to-do list: quicken the pace of games. Baseball is bringing back two changes made for the 2020 season with that goal in mind. Doubleheader games will be seven innings, and extra innings will start with a runner on second base.
The league has also said it will crack down on pitchers using illegal substances to put more spin on the ball, perhaps seeking to stem strikeout rates, which have risen each year since 2005.
However, that is mere tinkering compared to the experimental rules that the minor leagues will use this year for a faster, more action-packed game. These include a pitch clock, limiting defensive shifts to allow for more hits, larger bases and limited pickoff attempts to encourage stolen base attempts, and an automated strike zone (yes, “robot umps”).
The bigger issue may be cultural. While the NBA allows its players to show emotion and personality during games, players are regularly reprimanded for bat flips and other celebrations.
Fernando Tatis Jr., one of baseball’s most exciting players, was made to apologize for hitting a grand slam with a big lead late in one game last season.
There were positive signs last August: TV ratings were up amid a challenging year, boosted by younger demographics and female fans.