Major League Baseball is back.
The 2017 season opened on Sunday with three games. Today, the rest of the league joins in.
For most, it’s a holiday. It signals the return of spring and glorious nights at the ballpark.
This coming season feels different. Baseball has a shot to get its shine back.
It’s not that the game isn’t popular with fans. MLB’s attendance is unmatched. It’s just that the recent narrative attempts to paint the game as a dinosaur, dying before our eyes.
It was never true, just a perception.
Baseball is definitely on the uptick. The same can’t be said about the NFL or the NBA.
MLB enjoyed a wonderful postseason that ended with the Chicago Cubs winning a nail-biting, seven-game World Series over the Cleveland Indians.
Game 7 drew the highest national TV ratings for a baseball game in 25 years. Yes, the series and that game were that compelling.
This spring, MLB’s appeal was top shelf with the World Baseball Classic. The U.S. won it for the first time. Both the attendance and TV ratings were record-setting.
Meanwhile, the NFL has struggled. Many turned off the countless bad games offered up, especially on Thursday nights. TV ratings dropped eight percent in 2016. Per ESPN, an average NFL game dropped in viewership from 17.9 million in 2015 to 16.5 million in 2016.
The NBA’s ratings are worse. As of February, NBA TV ratings are down 15% this season on the local level compared to a year ago.
Apparently, fans are tired of all the bad games and the new trend of resting the best players during marquee matchup. It’s a bad look.
And unlike the NBA, where many fans are tired of LeBron James going to the Finals every year (he’s made it six straight seasons) and the Golden State Warriors have turned into the league’s villain with the addition of Kevin Durant, MLB doesn’t have that problem.
Winning has been spread around MLB America, even small-market Kansas City won it all two seasons ago.
The current champs, the Chicago Cubs, are a likeable team with many young stars. Best of all, they aren’t the only good team. The league has plenty that have a legit shot to win. This sets up a compelling scenario.
Many experts think the Cubs will repeat, but it’s hard in baseball. In fact, the last team to repeat was the ’99-’00 New York Yankees. The last NL team to repeat was the ’75-’76 Cincinnati Reds. That’s an incredible stat.
Make no mistake about it: Baseball is still king and never gave up its place as the American Pastime.
The true measure of any sport, show, performance or event has always been ticket sales.
The DVD sales are a nice bonus for a movie, but the success of a motion picture is based on how many people actually pay to come to the theater.
In baseball, fans just can’t get enough. MLB sells roughly 73 million tickets a season, more than the NFL, NBA and NHL combined.
It truly is a testament about the mass appeal of the sport and the desire to go out to the ballgame.
People always considered the Golden Age of baseball to be in the 1950s. Not true. It’s right now.
And it’s incredible when you realize just about every single baseball game is on TV every day. Fans don’t have to go, yet they do.
The NFL has one big thing going for it: it’s the perfect gambling sport. That’s what fuels why people watch, play fantasy football and click on stories on the internet. Fans are invested from the standpoint that they can make loot off of the game.
Even on the PED tip, fans don’t care in the NFL. MLB is held to a higher standard.
When I think of the face of steroids, it isn’t Barry Bonds or Mark McGwire, it’s Lyle Alzado. He admitted he started taking stuff in 1969 and said on his deathbed that 90 percent of athletes he knew took steroids. Somehow, people only care if it happens in baseball.
You can have your TV football broadcast all you want, but there’s nothing better than going to the ballpark, sitting in the bleachers on a crystal-clear, warm June evening with a hot dog and a beer.
This season, you get the sense that MLB will continue to both shine and flourish. Just watch.