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With the start of the professional and college football seasons, many people may have already moved on from baseball. But last night’s American League wild-card game between the Kansas City Royals and Oakland Athletics was a reminder of baseball’s integral role and positioning within the American cultural landscape. Though often criticized for a lengthy season and long lulls (by the Wall Street Journal’s estimation, a ball is in play for just 18 minutes of a three-hour game), the current model utilized by Major League Baseball is unique in its construction and harkens back to a long tradition of simplicity relative to other American professional sports leagues. There is significant value in the underlying structure of the MLB, and we sincerely hope that despite prevailing criticism, the sport maintains its current structure and integrity.

In recent years, the MLB has received criticism as many grow concerned that the league is losing favor among sports fans. Of the past nine World Series, eight received the lowest television ratings on record. These shifts in ratings may be associated with shifting demographics — 50 percent of baseball viewers are older than 55 — as well as lengthier games, the historic presence of performance-enhancing drugs, and a drop in scoring from an average of 5.14 runs per game in 2000 to 4.17 in 2013.

But despite concern regarding the decline in national ratings and World Series viewership, local ratings are actually up. As of July 24, the Nielsen Company reported that of the 29 American teams, 12 held the number-one spot for prime-time viewership at that point in the season, and 19 were in the top three spots. This suggests that fans are still deeply devoted to their teams, though they may not be as willing to watch other teams compete. While committed football fans splurge on cable packages to watch 16 games every week, baseball fans are less likely to watch a game if their team is not playing. There are already 162 games to watch each season, and only the most devoted need more than 500 hours of baseball. Moreover, with football and hockey underway in October, fans are not in desperate search of sports on TV and are even less likely to pay attention to the baseball postseason.

There are problems with baseball, including performance-enhancing drugs and exorbitant salaries, and it is unlikely baseball will surpass football in popularity in the near future. But it is still America’s second-favorite sport, with 14 percent of respondents to a January Harris poll calling baseball their favorite. More importantly, though, it is America’s pastime. It needs to be cleaned up and sped up, but it should not be redesigned to attract a wider fanbase at the expense of those who like it the way it is. Baseball can be improved, but it does not need drastic reforms that would dilute its traditional undergirding.

 

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: Natasha Bluth ’15, Alexander Kaplan ’15 and James Rattner ’15. Send comments to editorials@browndailyherald.com.



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