The World Series, once the most highly anticipated sporting event in the U.S., had just 9.78 million average viewers in 2020, far below its 2003 total of 25.47 million viewers.
This statistic is not an anomaly. In fact, the World Series, along with regular season baseball ratings, have fallen steadily since the mid-20th century, and the decline doesn’t seem to be slowing down.
For perspective, the World Series hasn’t seen a steady uptick in viewership since the mid-80s, nearly 40 years ago. The 2016 World Series between the Cubs and Indians provided a bit of a rebound as the Cubs first World Series win since 1908, but the rebound was short-lived.
The question then arises, why is the MLB struggling to attract a new generation of baseball fans despite being the first major league the US founded in 1876?
The origins of an answer can be found in that very question; baseball is the oldest major sports league in America.
The next phase of an answer stems from the MLB’s insistence on pulling in all revenue available to them, no matter the source. When content creators put out MLB related content on a monetized platform such as YouTube, the MLB ‘claims’ the content and thus collects all revenues from monetization. This is not the case with other major league sports, such as the NFL and the NBA.
This control over the most miniscule of revenues by the MLB is discouraging content creators across all social media platforms, thus eliminating a large portion of potential interactions with the younger generation of fans the MLB is lacking.
Jimmy O’Brian, or Jomboy on Twitter, is a perfect example. In 2019, O’Brian, a popular baseball content creator, posted a video edited together using hot mics and broadcasted footage of a NY Yankees manager being ejected. The video quickly garnered well over 100,000 likes on Twitter, launching a viral quote from the video that would eventually be plastered on various apparel.
Shortly thereafter, the MLB head of discipline Joe Torre met privately with O’Brian regarding the use of hot mic recordings in his viral video. Torre was reportedly upset with the easy access Twitter users had to the recordings.
“That’s not the way I want to hear it, for everybody else to hear it. I wish I could hear it, only,” Torre said prior to the meeting.
Baseball fans quickly claimed that the MLB was taking an overtly controlling stance, upset with a content creator like O’Brian profiting off the MLB without their own share of the profits. In response, O’Brian took to Twitter to explain that his content rarely makes a profit thanks to the MLB’s constant claims on his videos.
“They claim near every video on YouTube, trust me, they are making WAY more money off me than I’m making off me,” O’Brian said via Twitter in August of 2019.
Instances like this make the issue clearer than ever; the MLB is disregarding a mountain of cost-free advertising to the youngest generation of fans available through content creators such as O’Brian.
If the MLB continues to disregard this mountain, the alarming decline in viewership will only continue to a point of no return.