Sports leagues, especially Major League Baseball, are experiencing a decline in youth audiences.
The change comes as people shift away from traditional television to social media, video games and streaming television, a trend that has only increased during the Covid-19 pandemic, reports the Wall Street Journal.
New York Mets new owner is trying to turn the tide by doing a marketing overhaul with ideas that include updating ballpark technology, creating sponsorships that grow his brand on social media and building his “cool factor”.
Other leagues are also trying things. The NFL will broadcast a playoff game on Nickelodeon and has a new weekly show called “NFL Slimetime.”
Q: Can professional sports leagues reverse the declining trend in youth audiences?
Jamie Moraga, IntelliSolutions
YES: If anyone has the means to turn the tide, it’s the professional sports leagues. They have the motivation, the capital, and can hire the talent to target young viewers. Fans look for highlights, quick snippets, or end-of-game notifications through paid apps or subscriptions. By becoming more creative and interactive and using technology, social media, branding and live experiences, professional leagues may be able to re-engage younger generations of fans.
David Ely, San Diego State University
YES: Leagues are unlikely to regain the audience levels they enjoyed when broadcast and cable TV dominated the entertainment industry. However, with their significant marketing and branding resources, they should be able to stop the decline and win back a few fans. Recognizing the change in the way entertainment is consumed, leagues may research forms of streaming and various ways to use social media to engage new viewers.
Ray Major, SANDAG
Do not participate this week.
Lynn Reaser, Point Loma Nazarene University
YES: It will be a steep mountain to climb, however. Links will have to be forged between the players and the younger ones to advocate in favor of the audience. Personal interviews with players could help build these affinities. Sports leagues may need to invest more in children’s sports activities to spark the interest of younger viewers and the interest of their parents. Technology and broadcasting can help, but young viewers need a compelling reason to engage.
Reginald Jones, Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation
NO: The essence of the sport is the live experience, not the mainstream broadcast. Younger people are more involved in sports video games. The economy is the real problem with audience growth. Many potential members of the public cannot afford to attend the games. Particularly urban, low and moderate income families. Ironic, because many downtown youth who grow up playing on neighborhood courts and vacant lots become money generators for the league. This very demographic is largely priced out of the arena.
Kelly Cunningham, San Diego Institute for Economic Research
YES: Rather than gadgets to attract viewers, the best way to get young people interested in professional teams is to participate in the sport themselves while growing up. Participating in organized sports is a meaningful rite of passage for young people and can become a lifelong passion. The best part is that they are physically active, instead of sitting inert for hours on end playing virtual computer games. Sponsorship of small leagues and amateur competitions is an effective way for the big leagues to foster involvement.
Phil Blair, Workforce
YES: With changes. I am a big fan of tradition until this tradition drags the sport down. Sports games need to go faster, no long TV walks from the bullpen, the game needs to be shorter, halves shorter, and players need to be easier to understand and more likable. It’s good to take off caps and helmets and see their real faces every now and then. For baseball, it can be helpful to reduce the number of games. Using more technology to track hits, kicked balls and catches. With the new technology that we have, there shouldn’t be a “What just happened?” ” moments. We know that everyone’s attention span is much shorter for everything, not just sports.
Gary London, London Moeder Advisors
NO: If you don’t play when you are young, you are less likely to understand or follow the game when you are older. The real culprit is the non-participation in sports of young people, mainly due to injuries. In addition, there are now more distractions. The audience can be persuaded somewhat by marketing techniques, but these fundamentals must be addressed to save football, in particular, as well as other team sports.
Alan Gin, University of San Diego
NO: It’s a generalization, but young people these days tend to have shorter attention spans and want faster gratification (and they won’t stay off my lawn!). It is more difficult for them to attend two to four hour sporting events and savor the strategic intricacies found in games like baseball and football. The availability of online and streaming alternatives like esports and even things like quick chess has provided serious competition for mainstream sports and will only expand in the future.
Bob Rauch, RA Rauch & Associates
YES: Each sport has its challenges. Baseball is too slow, allowing pitchers and hitters to set the pace by taking their time and relying on home runs for excitement. Basic theft is a lost art. Basketball allows for political statements rather than just focusing on the game. Football seems to continue to attract a wide range of fans – is there any interest in the game? New sponsors, social media, and marketing can play a big part here. Let’s encourage a youth movement.
Austin Neudecker, Weave Growth
NO: In the field, fewer children play sports. When it comes to audience, trends towards short-form content, mobile and games continue to look away from broadcast sports to streaming services, social media platforms and e-sports. Traditional sports must innovate and adapt. A slow decline in viewership can be stymied by new form factors and business models that take into account the preferences of young viewers, but professional franchises are fighting an uphill battle to remain relevant.
James Hamilton, UC San Diego
NO: The trend was clear before COVID and will not reverse as other aspects of life return to normal. When the conflicts and divisions in America spill over into the sport, events no longer provide an escape from our worries or a way to come together. When teams like the Chargers walk away when they want to, how can fans feel the team represents them? And as injuries in professional sports increase in severity, they are less fun to watch.
Chris Van Gorder, Scripps Health
NO: At least not when it comes to baseball. Unlike basketball and football, baseball is a relatively slow-moving sport with nuanced strategy and tactics and brief moments of excitement. This is the same reason why golf does not appeal to young audiences. Other fast sports will have fewer problems, but the interest of young people will wane over time in this age of instant gratification. The Mets and the like would be better served to target a demographic that wants to watch a baseball game.
Norm Miller, University of San Diego
NO: The United States has had a culture of considering only football, baseball, and basketball as the primary food groups for “sport,” along with golf, ice hockey, auto racing, tennis, and soccer. and the occasional Olympics. But now we have extreme skateboarding, snowboarding, skiing, MMA fighting, poker, lumberjack, ax throwing, beanbag throwing, bowling, darts, and more. My bet is that the audience is not at all declining for “sports” but rather declining for the big three traditional sports, and increasing if measured in a more holistic way.
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