Why Do Fans Go To Ballgames or Stay Home?

Major League Baseball's Biggest Fear.

Why do people go to ballgames? In major league baseball, for that matter, why do some baseball fans go to ballgames in person while others simply stay home and watch on TV?

I could spend all day and several columns on this subject and still get lost in all the variables that I think  tilt people into one category or the other so let’s just hit the highlights here on my observations. You and others may likely see it differently.

(1) Multi-Tasking Opportunities at Home: Sometimes people who know the game and its history well prefer to watch from home where they can simultaneously surf the Internet for other sources of information historically on what is transpiring on the field. This group may increase their future game appearances as the technology to do certain analytical functions becomes more portable and affordable.

(2) The Personal Atmosphere and Ambience of the Ballpark: There’s something about the smell of hot dogs, the sounds of batted balls, the assorted shapes and sizes of other fans in person, the summer weather, the company of family and game buddies that are all – and I mean ALL and EVERYTHING ELSE that emanates from the senses and our emotional connections to each other that are ALL only available at the ballpark.

(3) Some people stay home because they can watch the game better on TV: The presence of strategically located TV sets at the ballpark is helping this ballpark competition from stay-at-home-ease, but HD big screen reception at home, with all of broadcasting’s multi-camera dynamic perspectives on a single game will always be superior as a view to even the best seat at the ballpark. The antidote for this problem has never been engaged fully in any of the newly constructed ballpark venues.

What’s the answer? Give the fans true stadium seating, the kind they are building into new movie theatres today at a record clip. These are seats that cannot be obscured by some 6’5″ bald-headed guy who gets the seat in front of you. Even if you are able to catch a glimpse of home plate around his right ear under these circumstances, you still end up with a moon-like memory of the moles and craters on his bald pate that is superior to any live recollections you may have of the action on the field. Unobstructed sight lines makes up for a lot of the loss of TV’s multiple perspectives and replays.

(4) Some fans go to games because they crave (and, using my day-job career as my point of reference credential,  I do mean “crave” in an obsessive-compulsive sense) an authentic connection to the game. These fans want to be near their stars, wearing the kinds of gear and uniforms that their local heroes are wearing on the field. The needs of these fans are the source of a major fairly unexplored potentially more personal revenue stream for MLB products. The next step up from here, which a few clubs already seem to realize better than others, is the sale to fans of authentic game-used uniforms and equipment. This development means that ballpark souvenir sales have gone from pennants in the beginning – to tee shirts with the team’s name on it – to replica jerseys – to authentic jerseys and game gear now – and all in just a few short years.

(5) Some fans only go to games in person when they perceive that the home club has a chance of reaching the World Series. Remember, I didn’t say that a club actually has to reach the World Series to attract this population. These fans simply have to have invested informed and sentimental hope in that possibility. Owners who pull this string to build their short-term gate need to bear in mind that fans are never fooled forever. The effort to win must be sincere and based upon some plan for winning that makes sense. Otherwise, fans are capable of turning away and never looking back. The old myth that “fans always have a short memory” is a dangerous rope bridge over troubled attendance waters in any big league market.

Conclusion: Today’s baseball fans will follow the game forever if they are not made to feel like suckers – and if they are not too reminded too often by increasing prices that they are the cash cows at the whole big-salary circus of big league baseball.

Whatever we all can do to keep the cost of MLB baseball at a family friendly budget level is all important to the future of the game. That’s especially true in this era of the new fans who are still kids playing little league ball and going to big league or minor league games with their parents. They are not quite the same as those of us who grew up loving baseball from our dawn-to-dusk sandlot days. To today’s kids, baseball is more or less just another adult-organized activity they go through seasonally, along with football, basketball, soccer, gymnastics, music, karate, and other extracurricular what have yous.

I’ll take our generational difference this far: Our post-WWII youth generation’s love of baseball from the sandlot was systemic. Baseball got into our bloodstreams and it directed everything we did. For today’s generation, however, it seems that baseball is more often than not little more than a topical condition, one applied by parents, complete with all the external things like replica uniforms we only wished for, but could never dream of affording.

Back in the day, our love of the game was for life. The value of baseball to this generation is something we shall have to wait to learn more about over the course of the next ten to twenty years. It’s this current generation that will answer an important long-term question: Who goes to baseball games and who stays home?

While we’re waiting, baseball needs to continue its efforts to find ways that will help young people choose the game for themselves. Certainly, building ballparks where kids can play the game anywhere is a nice general step in that direction. Unfortunately, the predator-danger to children in today’s world virtually wipes out the possbility of resurrecting the pure sandlot ball experience on a broad scale – and that’s a sad loss, one that goes far beyond baseball.

We used to have the freedom to work things out together as kids. Now that opportunity has been taken away from our children and our grandchildren by an increasingly dangerous street world. How sad that realization suddenly makes me.

America, where did you go?

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3 Responses to “Why Do Fans Go To Ballgames or Stay Home?”

  1. Wayne Williams Says:

    Bill: Good column. I am heading off to Opening Day at Coors Field to watch the Rockies start its 18th season. Haven’t missed a home opener. I expect the Rockies to have a good season but will have to hit better in the clutch than they did in Milwaukee.

  2. David Munger Says:

    Great article. Because of the lack of “The Sand Lot”, I don’t think the majority of the kids today understand the Game as we “SAND LOTTERS”
    do. As for going to the game or staying, I’m on the fence. I have gotten spoiled with my “concession stand pricing”. But there is nothing like “THE REAL THING”. One more thing, I’ll take a Pitchers Duel over a high scoring game any day. I guess that’s the OLD SCHOOl in me.

    Bill, enjoy your week end.

  3. Doug Stewart Says:

    I second David’s comment on the Pitcher’s Duel and real baseball without the DH.

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