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Fixing Major League Baseball
Major League Baseball needs a facelift, and by facelift I mean the reinventing that only the most brilliant of marketing strategists can conjure up along with a financial reckoning that has lingered for decades.
In many ways, baseball has never escaped the shadow of the great and cheap Charles Comiskey, owner of the infamous 1919 Chicago Black Sox. Throughout the many strikes and lockouts that have worked to drive fans from the game they grew up loving, the image of owners being unwilling to give players a fair share has persisted. What remains is a game that oozes tradition and lacks a true vision for the future.
Recent changes brought to the game have been made with an eye on speeding up the game. The thought is that people do not want to watch a three-hour long baseball game. Yet people will watch basketball and football all day when given the opportunity. Perhaps baseball should be a little surer of itself and feel a little less like the little brother in need of attention. Times do change and it is possible that the game of baseball doesn’t have the excitement level our country now craves, but there are slower moving sports that attract audiences. Baseball is the sport that has engaged generations for well over a century. No other sport can lay claim to a history so rich. Baseball has sold itself short recently.
Fixing the Money
The money must be fixed first. There isn’t a solution that can be laid out in simple terms due to the complexities of Competitive Balance Taxes , revenue sharing and the like. Yet there has to be a number that would work for both the players and the owners.
Perhaps they should both submit a number (percentage of revenue to go to players’ salaries) to an arbiter. The number would be between 45 and 55 percent. The arbiter would calculate the mean and that would be the final number. An agreed upon percentage of the variance in numbers should be put into a fund to promote the game to the youth in our country.
Once the players know how much their cut is, they would have input on the league salary structure. They would decide the league minimum and other numbers. This would all be done within a salary cap structure. Baseball is the only league that doesn’t utilize a cap and they need to catch up to the way things work now. Revenue sharing should allow all teams to work within whatever salary cap is established. Remaining revenues should be retained by teams as incentive to compete.
Baseball needs to examine the practices of arbitration and long-term guaranteed contracts. These don’t work well within a salary cap environment. Establish new rules for free agency. Consider allowing teams to tag players or match other offers. Baseball has seen stars congregate in big markets for far too long. Cities should be able to retain their young stars. Older players making too much money beyond their prime is also an issue that has plagued baseball over the years. Players may not like this, but it isn’t good for the game. A limit on contract length or guaranteed money may be in order. This wouldn’t shrink the pot for players at all.
Fixing The Experience
Once the financial portion of the game is resolved, the game and the experience could be tweaked a bit to make things better for the fans. Baseball is a great game of tradition so that needs to be honored. Records are sacred, former stars are revered, and teams are beloved as if they are family. MLB must use all of this to its advantage and play it up rather than trying to hide from it and turn baseball into arena baseball.
Most of us saw our first baseball game when our dad took us to the ballpark. He explained the game to us as we watched. If it wasn’t your dad, it was probably your mom or your grandparent. We ate some peanuts or a hotdog, and maybe learned how to score a game. Tradition, fond memories, fresh grass, and family make baseball an undeniable attraction.
The first thing I would do is dump the new extra innings rule. It has no basis in tradition. A better solution will follow. People like action, so limiting mound visits makes sense. The season could be restored to 154 games, and few would notice. Teams don’t sell as many tickets late in the season anyway. I doubt that revenues would take much of a hit. Starting the playoffs earlier would be better before there is more competition from other sports. The current playoff structure seems to be the best thing baseball has going for it. It should be kept as is.
Baseball needs to be ever vigilant regarding mound height and the distance to the fences. While fans want action, the current all or nothing model is not sustainable. Hitters should hit rather than simply try to slug in every at bat.
The shift is annoying but has become part of the game. Hitters need to learn to hit. Outlawing the shift wouldn’t make the game any better or more exciting while better hitters would.
If you want fireworks, forget about extra innings all together. Let statistics stop after nine innings and start a homerun derby to decide the winner. The hitter would be the starter at a predetermined slot in the batting order for both teams. Give them each five balls and the most dingers wins the game. Save your pitchers for tomorrow. People would love it.
If that isn’t enough excitement, consider having the home team’s starting pitcher pitch to one batter to determine which team gets home field advantage for each game. A hit turns the advantage over to the visiting team. Baseball could do some things like this that wouldn’t cause a true change in the game, but would amplify the one on one match up that is the heart of the game.
All of this would be great, but what baseball is really missing is an ode to its glorious history and tradition within families. Celebrate Hall of Fame players. Tell their stories during games. Use more throwback jerseys. Have old-timers’ games. Let dad in free when his son has a ticket to a game. Games should always be kid friendly. Make them want to come back. Some of this is happening now, but it simply isn’t enough to help baseball rebound. Baseball needs to honor and also teach fans about its past with interactive exhibits and giveaways at the games.
Finally, baseball is remiss in playing up fantasy sports. They should be using fantasy to create a bigger audience. They should do the same with the player draft. Quite simply, baseball does not promote their stars enough. There are just too any great young players who are relatively unknown. That has to change. They have to market better.
Baseball has taken a step back from it used to be America’s game. It has taken a lot of criticism, too. Yet with proper marketing, a few changes to the game and a reasonable collective bargaining agreement, it could rebound in popularity by selling fans on what made it great for 100 years. Now play ball!
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