Your turn: Baseball far from dead

March 25, 2013


During my tenure as president of Major League Baseball’s American League (1994-2000), I encountered critics who espoused the belief that baseball was doomed, near death, actually. “Those people have gone away,” Commissioner Bud Selig told me in a recent conversation about the state of the game. The reasons for their departure are compelling, as Selig freely predicts:

Revenues for MLB will easily top $8 billion in 2013; they reached $7.5 billion in 2012.

Regular season attendance will jump again in 2013, surpassing last season’s regular season count of 74,859,268 and that milestone will surpass the combined attendance of the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, and the National Hockey League.

The values of almost all of the 30 franchises will continue to climb and at a steady rate. The New York Yankees are valued at $1.85 billion, tied with the Dallas Cowboys of the NFL in the sports enterprise.

Fans from coast to coast can expect tight races in 2013 because of real competitive balance through revenue sharing, resulting in two-thirds of the teams still competing for post-season competition as late as Labor Day. And some fans can expect lower ticket prices, too.

The Philadelphia Phillies led the National League in attendance for 2012 (3,565,718) with the Yankees drawing (3,542,406) in the American League. Nine clubs drew more than three million fans last season, while another 13 eclipsed the 2.3 million mark.

One of Major League Baseball’s principal assets for continued growth can be found in the minor leagues where 41,279,382 witnessed regular season games in 2012, and a disproportionate number of the attendees were youngsters.

“We play a significant role in introducing the game to future generations,” Pat O’Conner, president of Minor League Baseball, told me. “Most families can afford what we offer, and we offer a lot: reasonably priced tickets, special games and giveaways for kids, ballpark food and beverages, and exciting professional baseball. We entertain on and off the field.”

He foresees another climb in attendance, perhaps by a much as a million. He also says most ticket prices will remain low and attractive to cash strapped families.

Selig also believes that minor league baseball is “central to the well-being of the game. In truth, we must grow together.”

The two baseball heads contend that the minors have done much to reach out to grow the game for Major League Baseball and organized youth leagues across the country.

Virtually all major and minor leagues will be playing in new or recently renovated ballparks with up-to-date amenities in 2013. There are 15 minor leagues with 176 clubs, and with a line of individuals who have expressed interest in possible ownership.

In recent years, the globalization of America’s pastime has come of age, Selig likes to remind, with growing markets such as Puerto Rica, Mexico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. Promising players from Latin America, among the first to come to the United States in growing numbers, have met with success, athletes like Robinson Cano, the Yankee slugger and an ideal ambassador for the increasingly global game. Next came the Japanese, Taiwanese, and South Koreans, offering MLB potential standouts. The always talent-seeking Los Angeles Dodgers discovered and signed Hideo Nomo from Japan, who met with instant success.

Today every MLB team has scouts in Asia and the game is seeing promise in China and Australia.

The commissioner did acknowledge that the pace of game remains a problem, and that it needs to be further addressed, a perennial complaint of the fans and especially among the younger generation. Famed managers Tony LaRussa and Joe Torre will be working with the commissioner on the nagging matter. MLB will be accelerating efforts in urban America to persuade more youngsters to select baseball as their game of choice.

On a recent flight to New York City, I asked a flight attendant for an extra copy of its magazine, featuring Robinson Cano and the upcoming baseball season. The magazines were gone.

Perhaps that should tell us something, maybe a lot.

— Gene A. Budig served as chancellor/president at three major state universities, including Kansas University, and of Major League Baseball’s American League.


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