Dad is carrying the cooler. Mom is pushing the beach cart. Sister is carrying the buckets and brother is trailing behind with a Wiffle bat in one hand and a ball in the other.
A young girl around 11 years old is stepping up to the beach chair, which is serving as a makeshift home plate, as her cousin is waiting to pitch on the carefully sculpted sand mound. Phillies hats serve as shields from the sun as kids build their sandcastles and eat ice cream sandwiches.
Everywhere you look on the beach down the Jersey shore, you’ll see a reminder that despite the bleak numbers and poor play of the hometown team, baseball is still very much alive with younger generations.
According to Nielsen, per The Washington Post, however, 50 percent of baseball viewers are age 55 or older, up nine percent from 2005. This is just one of the countless statistics that says children aren’t watching or playing baseball as much as they used to, especially in comparison to football and basketball.
Is it possible that the stretch of beach I spend my summer on is an anomaly?
While the numbers certainly show a decline in interest, is baseball’s future anymore bleak than football’s? It seems as if there is a new study released almost every week showing the life-threatening dangers of football, not to mention the NFL’s current domestic abuse problem. Participation in tackle football by boys ages 6 to 12 decreased by almost 20 percent since 2009, according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA). As the years go on – and more studies released – the likelihood of parents letting their child play football are becoming slimmer.
Meanwhile, baseball saw an increase in both casual and core participation. According to SFIA, casual participation increased 7 percent over five years, 11 percent over three years and 18 percent from 2015 to 2016.
Look, I’m not here to declare fake news on the idea that kids aren’t as into baseball as previous generations. MLB has a lot of catching up to do compared to other leagues. Pace of play has been a hot topic in recent years, and with attention spans shortening by the minute, the concept of kids sitting down for a three-hour game doesn’t seem realistic.
MLB’s approach to digital media can help combat this problem. Unlike the NBA, where you can find every LeBron highlight or Embiid dunk online, seconds after they happen, MLB puts restrictions on virtually all of their content. If they want to connect with the younger generation, they need to meet them where they are.
We’re seeing this happen on the team level with the Phillies. Knowing that they wouldn’t have the best product on the field, the organization spent the last two off seasons beefing up their digital and social media staff in an attempt to keep fans engaged.
More of this league-wide can go a long way. It’s not as if the league doesn’t have the star players and personalities the NFL or NBA has. Let the likes of Anthony Rizzo or Giancarlo Stanton loose and every kid is going to want to go to the ballpark to watch them, no matter how long the game.
As you start to lose hope with every Phillies loss and poor TV rating report, remember the kid who is imitating Bryce Harper in the schoolyard and, of course, the game of beach Wiffle ball that isn’t over until mom says it’s time to go home.