The phrase “America’s pastime” says it all. Baseball will always be synonymous with America so long as the American flag has 13 stripes, but can baseball be defined today as America’s sport? Not necessarily.
A Harris poll conducted in 2014 confirms the truth that many already know: football has overtaken baseball in terms of popularity. Unfortunately, the MLB will probably never overtake the NFL in popularity; so long as the 162-game schedule exists versus a 16 game schedule – after all, the schedule can wear on some. Yet there may still be hope the MLB can improve exponentially in the coming years.
Major League Baseball went through a kind of Dark Age during the early 2000’s. Sure, there were bright spots. The Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years… then won two more in the next nine years. But overall the 2000’s were a murky decade filled with the Mitchell Report and Biogenesis, which meant less offense, fewer home runs and less excitement in the games.
However, things appear to be looking up for the MLB. After all, they probably will not have a worse scandal than with the steroids issue in their future. And look at what controversies the other three major sports are dealing with: the NFL has the domestic violence issue and the concussion issue, the NBA has tanking and the NHL also has had its share of concussion issues as well. This does not say the MLB may have none of these issues, like domestic violence for instance, but no current evidence suggests they have any major controversies on the horizon.
The wide open playoff race in the MLB has to be taken into account as well. While other leagues will head into next season with eight or nine teams that will probably miss the playoffs, the MLB will be set up for possible history in the league this year with having a number of teams that could make the playoffs this year. The only teams that by consensus picks have a little shot to make the playoffs this coming year will be the Phillies, Rockies, Diamondbacks and Twins. All the other teams one can see in some way making the playoffs in 2015.
This has created a competitive nature in the game that will have more fans cheering for their team in the playoff hunt in September rather than watching a team that has no chance of playing October baseball. The Moneyball factor has changed the game immensely, creating a more competitive atmosphere in the game today where fans in small markets like Pittsburgh, Oakland and Kansas City can be more assured that they can find other ways to build a winner that will not break the bank.
The trick to competing with the NFL should be to cater to the fans and make the game more enjoyable; after all, the 162-game schedule can get boring. Adding to the competitiveness of the league has been one way they have done this. The other: pace of play, for which they have already started to implement changes this year, like the two minutes between innings change which has been a big contributing factor to why average time of game is down by nine minutes in just the month of April this year.
The MLB has a lot to look forward to in the future. The changes the league has undergone will help the sport’s growth in the future. And while they may never surpass the NFL in popularity or annual revenue, the MLB will grow in the future. More fans will watch this sport than ever before. The games will be faster and have an overall greater excitement to them. Baseball will rise from the Dark Ages and into the daylight.