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You may not be aware, but the Major League Baseball playoffs start next week on October 3rd. With football becoming more and more dominant on the American sporting landscape, the pennant chase and MLB postseason move further and further to the collective backburner. ESPN actually has exclusive rights to the Wild Card Round next week but good luck finding any promotion or conversation about the postseason chase on Get Up, First Take, or Pat McAfee.
It’s an unfortunate state of affairs for America’s pastime. There was a lot to feel good about this season in baseball – the pitch clock was a huge success as game time decreased dramatically, attendance numbers were encouraging, surprise teams like the Cincinnati Reds entered contention, and Shohei Ohtani had one of the great seasons of all-time.
In spite of those good feelings and good numbers, though, the final numbers on national viewership ended up coming back to earth in the second half of the season. ESPN saw viewership mostly flat. TBS’s ratings registered a slight increase (although it was much larger midway through the year). And Fox and FS1’s individual numbers were down even though the overall output was up because of more games appearing on broadcast.
While baseball shouldn’t be totally discouraged by some of these signs, it has to also look at the sports world and wonder if a moment is passing the sport by.
Who’s dominating the sports world right now? Incredibly, it’s Deion Sanders and Travis Kelce driving the most conversation, the most clicks, and the most eyeballs. And they’re doing so because they’re bringing an aura of excitement and celebrity to their sports. Deion Sanders and his “Coach Prime” persona are revolutionizing college football and has turned Colorado into a national powerhouse overnight. Travis Kelce may or may not be dating the most famous woman in the world in Taylor Swift. That’s what people, unsurprisingly, are talking about!
Baseball games are shorter and easier to consume… but it’s nowhere close to football in terms of generating widespread interest at the moment. Sadly, that je ne sais quoi appears to be the missing link for the venerable sport. Ohtani and Mike Trout might be the closest things to crossover superstars (as we saw during the World Baseball Classic), but they’ve made one combined playoff appearance with the Angels in their entire MLB careers.
Could Ronald Acuna Jr. be that guy? Or Elly De La Cruz? Are there other exciting players the sport can get behind? Is there anything baseball can do to break through the 24/7 hype-a-thon that surrounds the NFL and college football? Hopefully for the sport’s sake in the long-term and short-term it can figure out a way to do so. Or else it might be caught in the ultimate game of pickle.