There’s a point in any game where everything changes. Every player feels it. It’s when the crowd is so loud, player’s emotions and abilities swing on a dime, for better or worse. That’s exactly what players compete for, that rush, the roar of the crowd, the adulation to prove they’ve done something great or are important people. So, can you imagine NFL, NBA or NHL games played in empty stadiums? Major League Baseball may be headed that way.
The current average length of a Major League Baseball game is 3:02, of which only eighteen minutes is actual action, meaning there’s almost three hours of non-action. The current human attention span average is eight seconds, one second less than a goldfish. (And, yes, these figures come from credible research study).
Can you imagine a kid today going to his first live baseball game? He’s used to thrill-a-minute stimulation from his device, or television, or anything nowadays. The kids of this and future generations are tomorrow’s MLB fans – also known by team owners as “fannies in the seats,” the people who pay most of the player’s salaries.
But wait, young people aren’t the only ones distracted by modern-day living and technology.
The average worker today checks his email thirty times an hour. Typical mobile users check their phones 150 times a day. From 2011 to 2013, social media sharing doubled.
This is trouble for MLB. Look at the trends. The average length of an MLB contest in 1980 was 2:39, and we had far fewer distractions then. With the average 2014 MLB ticket price at $27.93, plus expensive concessions, plus travel time, plus the fact the game is available on cable, one might ask why go to baseball games at all?
Rob Manfred, MLB Commissioner, says he realizes these problems and is implementing new rules this season to speed up play to lure younger fans. No more forty-five seconds between pitches for batters to readjust their jock strap or pitchers to circle the mound two times. That’s just enough time to tempt fans to reconnect with friends, co-workers and social media outlets on their devices. Or just time to get bored, and the stadium goes quiet again.
Anyone who thinks crowd noise isn’t crucial to the excitement of sports is wrong. The NFL’s Atlanta Falcons were recently fined for pumping crowd noise into their stadium during games the past three seasons. Anyone who thinks the attention span issue isn’t crucial to sports is also wrong. The NFL has had to implement rules and fines for players and coaches from texting during games. It’s a different world today.
Major League Baseball’s official Opening Day game is April 5 in Chicago’s old Wrigley Field, ironically a night game. In 1988, Wrigley was the last MLB franchise to install stadium lights for night games.
I worry what MLB stadiums will look like in another twenty-seven years.
P.s. The solution here in northern New Mexico: Go to our Triple A Albuquerque Isotopes games. Bring all your kids. Leave all devices behind. Baseball is too beautiful a game to miss.