Baseball is the “Opera of Sports”

Baseball

A recent piece in the Wall Street Journal by Matthew Futterman, Why Kids Aren’t Watching Baseball Thrills in October, But Kids Don’t Watch Like They Have in the Past; The ‘Opera of Sports’, has some interesting stats.

Too many kids have found something else to do.

It isn’t hard to figure out why. So many games dragging deep into their fourth hour. All those AARP-eligible folks lining the lower levels of the stands. Baseball has morphed into sports’ version of the opera—long productions filled with pomp, color and crazy facial hair that younger audiences just don’t get.

The average World Series viewer this year is 54.4 years old, according to Nielsen, the media research firm. The trend line is heading north: The average age was 49.9 in 2009. Kids age 6 to 17 represented just 4.3% of the average audience for the American and National League Championship Series this year, compared with 7.4% a decade ago.

The piece speculates about the reasons, but this one is interesting, given how other sports leagues are also attempting to draw in live audiences by making that experience more like the home theatre experience.

Bob Bowman, chief executive of MLB Advanced Media, baseball’s tech company, said that while TV remains king, it isn’t the only measure of fan engagement in the mobile era. Fans, presumably many of them kids, downloaded 10 million copies of MLB.com’s mobile app this season, up from 6.7 million in 2012. “We know that with kids today, that is the best way to reach them, and in some cases that’s the only way to reach them,” Bowman said.

Of course we’re told that non-live event engagement isn’t worth much by the “Classical Music is Dying” camp and yet it’s this type of engagement that all the sports leagues are considering bringing to the table for live events or recognize as something that draws audiences away from televised baseball.  The interesting thing here is how the live attendance for the NFL, NBA, NHL has declined (while broadcast viewership is steadier) while live audiences (until last year) for baseball has slowly increased while broadcast viewership has declined.

The thing to keep in mind is that since television viewership has dropped nearly 50% since 2002, the numbers given for tv audiences for sports is a percentage of the whole–the percentage of the whole, while remaining relatively steady for the other three leagues still means there is a drop in absolute number of viewers for all sports.  With a drop in tv viewers eventually a drop in ad revenue which funds traditional broadcast.  This will eventually mean a drop in non-performance revenue–which makes up the lion’s share of revenue for all the leagues!

So singling out Baseball and equivocating it with the rising median age of Opera is a bit disingenuous since the overall trend is the same for all the leagues. It shouldn’t be surprising that trendlines, while diverging after the era of the Sports Broadcasting Act, of search results in print media for “Orchestra” and “Baseball” generally follow the same contour.  We’re coming into a different world so all these forms of entertainment which rose during the Industrial age and flourished after WWII are finally on the decline.

As Harvard economist, Tyler Cowen states:

“[C]ost disease studies usually select opera, theater, and the symphony orchestra. Cost disease proponents display an unjustified bias towards ‘high culture.’ We also should consider today’s cultural winners, such as rock and roll, country music, and heavy metal.” (Cowen, 1996)

and perhaps we should also consider today’s other “cultural winners” such as the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL and stop worrying about how much more relevant they seem than classical music as they are simply taking a little longer to fall since they had a higher starting point for the descent.

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5 thoughts on “Baseball is the “Opera of Sports”

  1. For me, a lot of the disengagement with sports is that they sort of aren’t human anymore. They start at insanely young ages, take all sorts of drugs, get operations to move their nerves and ligaments around, get hip reconstruction surgery to allow them to bend in ways that human bodies aren’t Mande to bend. They’re like ball-throwing cyborgs. I can’t relate to that. In the old days, they were also type AAA overachievers, but there was that message of “this could be you.” Now — as with classical music — the whole message is, “this will never be you.” Then why should I care?

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      1. One of the. Let insightful comments I’ve ever heard about classical concerts — and it goes for most sports games too — was a cellist quoted by RBP who said that most concerts are like going to an aquarium. You see this alien being doing things you couldn’t even try doing without immediately dying from behind a yard thick plexiglass wall. It’s hard to care about people from behind a yard thick plexiglass wall.

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