The Incredibly Shrinking Fan

Baseball As I Knew It Then.

Susan Jacoby is the author of “Why Baseball Matters”, recently published by Yale University Press. Because of a tout from my youthfully old St. Thomas High School compadre and writer friend Rob Sangster, it is also now the next book up on my reading list as a source that seems to offer some intelligent, far-reaching thoughts on how changes in our culture may be playing a major role in the younger generation’s future interest in actively following the game of baseball as it is presently played.

Here’s the link:

Now for the scary satirical fun part. ….

Question: Whoa! — As Jacoby reports, baseball is a ten billion dollar a year industry in 2018. What does baseball do if the fans suddenly go away? — Yikes!

Answer: The answer here may be a gradient one, depending on how many fans leave the game and how quickly they disappear. Let’s play with those possibilities.

Hypothetical Gradient Gate Loss Reactions by Baseball Over The Next 5 Years:

(a) 10% MLB Gate Loss by end of 2019: MLB Reaction: MLB Passes on Gate Loss revenues to season ticket holders; installs pitch clock and runner at 2nd base at start of each extra inning game.

(b) Another 15% MLB Gate Loss by end of 2020:  MLB Reaction: MLB tries to pass on new Gate Loss revenues to season ticket holders, but there aren’t enough left after the first year’s penalty to matter. So, MLB simply raises rates on ballpark and television advertising.

(c) Another 25% MLB Gate Loss by end of 2021. Annual gate is now down 50% since the end of 2018. In a move of haste and desperation, MLB reduces its support personnel payroll in all phases to 50% of what it was in 2018 and rules that complete games will now be shortened to six innings and player salaries reduced to 2/3 of what they were, pending approval by the Players Union. 🙂 Game tickets are reduced to 50% what they cost prior to the big gate dive, but fans are reminded that they are now paying a bargain half price for two-thirds of what used to stand as a full game.

(d) Another 40% MLB Gate Loss from 2018 by the end of 2022. MLB makes only one minor change and that’s at the concessions level. Marijuana, recreational and medicinal, is now made available to fans at all 30 MLB ballparks on game day.

(e) By the end of 2023, attendance had bottomed out to nothing. Baseball fans didn’t want Marijuana, and those that did, like those who like hot dogs, could find a better price elsewhere. MLB offered no further changes, but they did send out a survey request to “fans” that reached the public by way of both newspapers and the Internet.

It read simply, clearly, and succinctly:

“Please tell us what you want baseball to be and we will make it happen, even if you want us to remove bats, balls, or gloves from the game. We want that ten billion bucks a year back that we were used to banking back in 2018 and we will do whatever it takes to make that happen again. If you like, Commissioner Manfred is even willing to schedule himself as the dumping pool subject at all 30 MLB parks during the 2024 season —  just so each of you has a chance to show off your own pitching skills.”

(If only the problem were this simple to solve.)



Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle


4 Responses to “The Incredibly Shrinking Fan”

  1. Anthony Cavender Says:

    Bill–the Chronicle ran a long article on the Astros’ dynamic pricing–but the club had NO comment on the issues raised. It seems very short-sighted in the long run , essentially treating their fans differently on the basis of income. Huge payrolls are forcing the clubs to do this, and to avoid certain free agent signings. Lots of money for team mascots, however.

  2. Larry Dierker Says:

    Anthony, can you direct me to the Chronicle piece?

    My feeling is that as long as kids are playing ball, major league baseball will survive. My grandsons play in youth leagues, play video baseball and go to a game when I take them. If they couldn’t go at all, they would still be supporting the sport because the Astros game is always on TV at their house. Television covers the game so well now that the only thing you miss is the feeling and the smell of the ballpark. Back when tickets were less expensive and the pace of the game was faster, most games were not on TV and the networks didn’t show the game nearly as well as they do now.

    What we’re looking forward to, in my opinion, is two tiers of baseball. One is attendance and is limited to those with deep pockets, and on charitable contributions by the teams. In addition, many season ticket holders share tickets with employees and customers who may not be able to go otherwise.

    The other tier is folks who watch TV.

    Consider what the Astros do. They gave me 300 tickets for the kids in Dierker’s Champs, none of whom could go to a game on their family’s income. They do this for many groups. You just have to go to a game that is less “dynamic.” During the post season last year, they opened up Minute Maid so fans could watch the game on the big screen and share camaraderie like they do when there is a game on the field.

    I believe MLB and the teams will find ways for the less affluent to enjoy the sport. But unless the fans get a place at the bargaining table, tickets prices are not going to come down. That said, I didn’t think MLB would ever reduce the length of commercial breaks but they have.

    The deadly strike of 1994 was only settled because the owners had no choice but to cave. The players, as always, never gave an inch. The only way for the owners could make the business work was to increase revenue. They have done this and now the cost of doing business has increased dramatically for fans, sponsors, merchandisers and every other entity that wants to get in the game.

    The sport is still great, the athletes better than ever. Some of the changes the lawyers at MLB seem so determined to make in the rules to improve pacing will be rescinded because they won’t work. The ones that work will be kept. My hope is that they will finally come to the conclusion that the only way to get the players to shake a leg is to give the umpires that assignment and put some real teeth in the penalties, such as:

    “Get in the box.”

    “OK, strike one.”

    “Get on the rubber and pitch.”

    “OK, ball one.”

    It would be more complicated than that, but it would work. the umpires know when the game is dragging and they are on the scene. So far, MLB has tried to take little increments out of the time it takes to play the game, but has done nothing substantial give the players an incentive to pick up the tempo. At one point, MLB required the umpires to watch videos to try to get them all to call the same strike zone. How about showing some footage from old games to the players to show them what the pace used to look like.

    I have been frustrated many times by umpires. Some of them are better than others. All of them, in my opinion, are light years better than a clock.

  3. Rick B. Says:

    In regard to your solution “e),” the sale of marijuana would lead to the sale of more hot dogs (& all other concessions). Perhaps the owners could recover a considerable amount of revenue that way (provided, of course, that they did not overprice the Jamaican agriculture, as you intimated they likely would do). An added bonus would be that all of the ‘baked’ fans would no longer care about pace of play – the current pace would be right at their speed of comprehension.

  4. Anthony Cavender Says:

    The dynamic pricing article was published in last Sunday’s Chronicle–in the Business Section.

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