Manufacturing guy-at-large.

Baseball is safe as America’s pastime, but MLB needs to fight to retain the relevance of the in-stadium experience.

Added on by Spencer Wright.

Growing up, my experience of baseball was mediated through two lenses.  My father’s interest was a mirror of Ken Burns' - slow, nostalgic, and charmingly self important.  It contrasted sharply with the interests of my friends and classmates, who were more allured by the violence of football and the swagger and grace of basketball.  

A few years later, and it's evident that baseball has lost the attention of my generation.  Cultural divide aside, the MLB is under attack.  Incredibly, the steroid era seems not to have killed fans' appreciation of the game.  2012 saw MLB's fifth highest attendance ever, and TV revenues - especially for teams in NY and LA - continue to soar.  But the World Series was the lowest rated ever.  And compare the number of google results for "baseball is boring" (1.4 million) and similar searches for football and basketball (252,000 and 53,000 respectively) - and add the fact that the average MLB game has increased from 2:30 in the 1970s to almost 3 hours in 2012 - and it's clear that something needs to be done.

It seems obvious that the shame surrounding PEDs hasn't helped baseball's image, and that there are changes the MLB could make to the game (e.g. more effective video review; shortening the seasonreducing time between pitches) that would make the game more exciting.  But these are pipe dreams given the league's conservatism.  Moreover, the league's history is the feature which distinguishes it best.  Baseball should temper its pomposity, sure, but we shouldn't ask for any more than that.

But the MLB needs to take real steps towards making the in-stadium experience more engaging - and I don't mean getting Shake Shack to expand into more parks.  Luckily, there are ways to capitalize on the very aspect of the game that make people think it's boring - namely, its dead time.

Invest in Wireless.

Professional sports - all of them - need to find a way to get a ballpark full of 50,000 fans online at once.  In-stadium video is rapidly becoming the norm, but the layout of MLB parks makes the prospect of Jerry Jones style jumbotrons impractical.  Baseball needs a way for fans to interact more intimately with the play-by-play action, and the only way to make this a reality is to get real about wireless.

Push the Apps. 

Much to their credit, MLBAM's At Bat and At The Ballpark apps go a long way towards modernizing the in-game experience.  Baseball can't stop there.  At the Ballpark should integrate real-time congestion data for restrooms and vendors.  What about a seat swapping marketplace, where fans could move around the stadium as demand in different sections shifts?  If I need to leave in the 7th inning, I should be able to donate my tickets to a kid who's watching his first game from the nosebleeds.  Nevermind social media integration and connectivity with stat-heavy apps like the one Baseball Prospectus sells - MLBAM has a captive audience, and there are plenty of things they can do on their own to improve and market their apps.

Access to Camera Angles. 

With so much space between plays, baseball has an opportunity to let fans explore the parts of the game that they love best.  MLB should introduce an interface that allows fans to choose which camera angle they want to watch, and to choose when, and at what speed, a replay is shown.  This feature is a glaring hole in the in-stadium experience, which pales to DVR- and replay-enhanced TV when it comes to examining the game up close.  Eventually it should be filled on mobile devices, with features similar to's Mosaic View, but in the meantime, teams should set up in-stadium clubs where fans can look at the feeds that broadcasters have access to.  This kind of venue would bring fans closer to the game, whereas most stadiums' club & restaurant offerings serve mostly to distract from it.

Heated Stadium Seats. 

I mean, why not?  If I shell out $300 for field level seats to a night game in April, I expect a little protection from Yankee Stadium's infamous (albeit possibly over hyped) wind tunnel effect.  And hey, if a $23K Honda Civic can do it, I would expect no less from the Steinbrenners.  Do I hear a HotHands licensing deal looming?


Note: An earlier version of this post inaccurately set the number of hits for "baseball is boring" at 7 million.