Baseball Is Only Bad Because We Keep Saying It Is

Updated: Aug 29, 2018

"Thanks for coming, everyone. Our research team has been hard at work, creating new strategies for taking our business to new heights and gaining new customers every step of the way."


I’d like to start by thanking you all for your commitment to our product, even through these lean, trying, delicate times when people just aren’t purchasing socks like they used to.

But, I can’t blame them. With the rising popularity of “flip flops” and “ballet flats” and other slip-on shoes, socks just aren’t cool anymore. In fact, we’ve almost let them become… boring.


I know, I know. It hurts me to say it, too.


When I was growing up, your shoes were only as cool as the socks inside them. A proper pair of dress socks? Couldn’t beat it. Knee-highs in the winter? Legendary. A first-ballot Hall of Fame sock in anyone’s mind. And when we rolled out the first ankle socks? Truly, our product had become the nation’s obsession.


Everyone - and I do mean everyone - had to have socks.


But that’s just not going to cut it anymore.


Kids aren’t taking the time to match socks, much less respect them.


And I think the best way to change their minds is to publicly acknowledge everything terrible about socks. Make them feel justified in their boredom. Show them that we’re really listening.


What’s that, Angela? What about the people who do like socks?


Oh, I’m not worried about them.


I understand that they love our product, and they see its true value. But they’re not winning us new customers, are they?


Our socks need to be more…. interesting. But not too interesting. There’s a delicate balance between tastefully marketable and arrogantly bold. We have to do this the right way.


So, here’s my thought: Sock shoes.


No, seriously - we make socks that feel like socks but work like shoes. The millennials will love it because they won’t have to put their phones down to put them on!

——————


All Star Week brings out the best and the brightest in Major League Baseball and it’s Minor League affiliates.


Between the Futures Game highlighting the remarkable talent just a few promotions away from The Show, the Home Run Derby featuring some of the most mind boggling power hitting ability we’ve probably ever seen, and the All Star Game itself that, let’s be honest, is way less about the game and more about the individual players that make baseball great, it’s a week that should bring national attention to everything that’s good about this sport.


Instead, the pomp and circumstance was rained on by a commissioner who seems convinced that the game, it’s athletes, and its future are boring and broken.


Games are too long.

There are too many games.

Pace of play doesn’t suit the crashing attention span of millennials.

Analytics are ruining the sport.

Players aren’t interesting enough.


Look, I get it.


Baseball isn’t for everyone. But would it not be advantageous for those within the sport itself to spend more time talking about what’s good about baseball, rather than pouring gasoline on the fire the game’s many critics are always ready to light?


So, let me offer a few alternate talking points in contrast to these complaints.


1. If I’m attending or watching a baseball game, the difference in two and a half and three hours isn’t that significant. I’ve already committed my time to the game, so if I’m going to be bored, it’s going to happen in hour two, not wait until hour three to kick in.


And perhaps rather than feeding the idea that baseball is too boring to take up three hours of anyone’s life, Mr. Manfred and Major League Baseball could pour some energy into introducing fans to the extraordinary human beings that make up their sport. Feature them and the work they do. Make the breaks in the game a marketing moment not just on television, but in the stadiums as well.


Or, sell better food. That always seems to help.


2. Yes, there are a lot of games. And sure, when you’re used to only paying attention to 16 NFL games a season, it might seem like an overwhelming task to also care about 162 baseball games every summer. But here’s the cool part about the long season: Every game counts, yes. But if you miss one, you can catch the one that will be played the next night. Your team gets blown out? Just wait. They’ll win by 12 runs some other night. A long season doesn’t inexorably mean a bad season, contrary to what so many people try to tell you.


(There’s also something to be said for the durability of the sport’s athletes over the course of a season, but MLB seems more content to let people believe the myth that baseball players aren’t real athletes rather than to invest in ways to promote the incredible work they do to make themselves fine-tuned athletic machines.)


3. Ah, the millennials argument.


By definition, I am a millennial. So, I feel I can speak with some authority here: stop blaming millennials when stuff doesn’t work. Millennials don’t care about your pitch clocks, your automatic intentional walks, your mound visit counters. Build all the “millennial zones” you want, but that’s a lot like trying to make socks be shoes instead of showcasing how great the socks actually are.


Look, the NFL is fighting the same fight against “pace of play.” According to a Forbes article last fall, the actual action time in an average NFL game is somewhere between 11 and 15 minutes, over the course of three hours plus. In fact, the average length of an NFL game mid-way through the 2017 season sat at 3:06:42.


Early this season, Forbes published some MLB numbers, too. Average game time? 3:00:58.


Yes, shorter than football, with it’s precious game clock.


But football shouldn't have to be baseball. And baseball shouldn't have to be football.


Baseball is, by it’s very nature, slow and calculated and strategic. It captivates a completely different part of the viewer’s brain than does the stop-and-go ferocity of football or the frenetic race against time in basketball. It’s as methodical as it is unpredictable. You can watch for hours while seemingly little happens, but don’t you dare blink — because you might miss the split second that changes everything. It might not keep your heart rate up like a two-goal lead in hockey does, but watch a closer try to get that final out in a one-run game and tell me you're not holding your breath.


What if — and I know this is bold — pace of play isn’t really the problem everyone has made it out to be, and the game is actually still good and interesting and fun, but people don’t know it because MLB is spending a tremendous amount of time and money reinforcing the false narrative that baseball is boring, rather than constantly reintroducing new generations of fans to everything that makes the game good?


4. I should just turn this over to Zach, but I’ll take a stab at it.


Any business that doesn’t find ways to apply the information they have access to will probably fail. Any business that doesn’t find a way to properly translate that data to its employees will probably face extreme resistance. That power struggle will, in all likelihood, halt progress and generate visible conflict.


If research shows that people prefer ankle socks to crew socks, or stripes to polkadots, but that information flows down the ladder in such a way that it is misunderstood, it’s eventually going to look like the information says socks are bad.


Let me put it this way:


Launch angle isn’t a strategy that's good or bad. Not on it’s own. Launch angle is, quite literally, “the vertical angle at which the ball leaves a player's bat after being struck.


Every. Single. Batted. Ball. Has. A. Launch. Angle.


Now, what good does that very basic piece of information tell us? Nothing. Until we can explain that research shows us that the ball leaving the bat at approximately a 25 degree angle typically creates line drives more consistently than lower angles.


It’s not magic. It’s math.


But too many in the game — and, to be brutally honest, in the broadcast booth — talk disparagingly about this kind of numeric value placed on things baseball has actually known forever, but couldn’t always quantify. That’s not an analytics problem. It’s an translation problem, whether we’re taking about passing information to players or to fans.


5. And the players. Ahh, yes. Those guys.







And that's just the stuff they do that isn't about mashing baseballs or throwing fiery darts at 100 mph. Perhaps it's not the players that are the problem... but the way you, MLB, talk about them.


Check out the thought experiment and following conclusion at the 2:23 mark. Gary, you might be onto something.


Look. I'm one of those who already likes baseball. Or, socks... if you're playing along with the opening analogy. I don't have to be convinced. And I'm happy to acknowledge some things that do need fixing in this game we know and love.


Things like:

  • Blackout restrictions. Good luck creating new fans when you keep them from actually seeing your content.

  • Archaic stereotypes of minority players. Check out the World Baseball Classic and tell me how it sucked people in. Wait, I’ll help. PASSION. Don’t try to take it away by labeling “flare” and “energy” as “antics” and “disrespect.” Especially in light of the harmful, racist undertones that tends to reveal.

  • Give us MORE, not less. I get that you want to make ALL THE MONEY ON ALL THE THINGS. But your consumers want content. They want access. They will literally do the work of sharing your product for you if you actually let them.

But, for the love of America’s Pastime, stop telling the world baseball is dying. Try, instead, using the multi-billion dollar machine you’ve built to tell the world how incredible it is.


Because… well, it is.