Major League Baseball is still going strong and there’s no denying that it’s a successful sport commercially. But the question that fans have to ask themselves, is whether the future is as bright for the game.
This is a pertinent question with the news that fewer children that ever before are taking up the bat and getting involved.
There was a time that baseball was fantastically popular among the younger generation. Collecting trading cards was a popular playground pastime and watching games with Dad was always a good day out.
Today, impassioned individuals Jim Wilson – president of the City of Newburgh Little League – are forced to carry the torch for where interest is dying among youths.
Wilson recently launched a petition to keep the baseball files at Delano-Hitch Park in use after he found them covered in piles of snow. He’s seen the numbers of children participating plummet in recent years and was forced into drastic action just to prevent the league from folding.
He and the league’s board of directors have even gone as far as to call parents at their homes to try and encourage an interest in their children playing. He recalls feeling like a telemarketer and being met with a lukewarm reaction.
Reportedly, part of this decline is due to a growing interest in other sports. It seems that lacrosse, basketball and soccer are all more popular among the younger generation. At the same time though, we’re seeing a decline in popularity for all sports among children – with many potential factors playing a role. It’s easy to point the finger at computer games but those alone can’t explain the most recent drops in numbers.
In 2009 there were 206 players in the local little league, this year it’s down to 74.
And this isn’t an isolated story either. Likewise, across the country participation numbers have been falling and many local youth leaders have spoken out about their dismay.
In 2000, there were 8.8 million participating youths in baseball across the US. In 2013 this had fallen to 5.3 million.
With too few teams to form a self-contained league, these regions are forced to merge with other nearby leagues or to completely disband. This is only likely to make the game less accessible for newcomers and to reduce interest in the sport yet further.
And it would be naïve to think this would have no impact on Major League Baseball. After all, children are our future and if they aren’t showing any interest in the sport now, they’re less likely to be interested in going to games as they get older.
This then means less money for the sport and that means less promotion, smaller stadiums, less entertainment… And this can again have repercussions on the popularity of the game in a general vicious cycle and downward spiral.
So what can enthusiastic parents and adults do?
The first thing of course is to try and show their children the excitement of baseball. Take them along to games, put it on the TV and play with a catcher’s mitt in the garden.
The rest is down to the powers that be. How can promoters and marketers get kids to rediscover their love for the game?
Perhaps they should turn their attention to one of the few sports that are gaining ground in the US: soccer.