Monday, April 27, 2009

Major League Baseball: What isn't the problem

It's easy to jump to conclusions in these trying economic times.

And it seems that a recent Washington Examiner column by Jim Williams about the economy and baseball does just that.

Williams relies on well-respected sources and broad conclusions to tie most of the game's recent attendance shortcomings, especially not being able to fill up the new stadiums in New York, into an economic issue.

Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. says he expects many Minor League parks to break attendance records because they are more affordable than the Major League venues. Political analyst David Gregory paints an idyllic and outdated picture of baseball as a summer right of passage. And CBS Sports President Sean McManus says the recent increases in sports TV ratings are related to people wanting cheap entertainment and staying home more.

Only the last one of those makes a whole lot of sense to me, and even that isn't a baseball issue.

The popularity of the Minor Leagues, which Ripken has become heavily invested in as an owner of multiple teams, has been growing in recent years because they can offer a more fun, family friendly experience in an intimate setting. Sure, cost has a lot to do with this, but attendance has been increasing every year anyway, and I don't think this is a new phenomenon.

Gregory's take is definitely outdated. Baseball has been passed by the NFL and at the very least, caught by sports like the NBA and NASCAR in popularity. In a long regular season while other pro sports are winding down with playoffs, it's logical to think that MLB should take a back seat during its first two months before getting a virtual monopoly on the market until football rolls around.

McManus' point is well-taken. It's understandable that major sporting events like the NCAA basketball tournament and The Master's will get more viewership in this tough economy. If a guy can't even afford the gas to take his family on a Sunday drive, he's more apt to flick on the TV and watch the Master's final round. But I don't think it's possible to turn it into a baseball issue because there are so many games on a given day that viewership gets spread out and more meaningful national numbers can be harder to compile, especially when there are teams like the Nationals out there.

Baseball has surely been hit by the economy, but I don't think it's fair to make the connections that Williams has attempted above. By the time summer rolls around, baseball will have its monopoly on the sports world and this column will be an afterthought.

But if the Yankees and Mets lowered their ticket prices for premium seats, that might also help this situation.

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