BOSTON (CBS) – Major League Baseball has a problem on its hands.
The games are getting longer, and interest in the sport is trending to the older demographic, as declining Little League participation in this short attention span society would indicate.
For Major League Baseball to survive and continue to thrive this century, the game needs to appeal to the young crowd, which is why pace of play is a primary concern.
The Red Sox are one team working to fix this problem, and to explain some of their initiatives, 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Zolak & Bertrand welcomed team COO Sam Kennedy onto the show Wednesday morning.
“We all recognize that we do have an issue connecting with kids and bringing younger people into the sport as the world is sort of changing around us,” Kennedy said.
“We need to do our part in terms of getting people into Fenway Park and experiencing Red Sox baseball in person, because that’s really how you fall in love with baseball. For those of us who grew up around here, if we didn’t have the opportunity to come into Fenway Park and stand in Section 125, sit down in the lower field boxes or wherever your first experience may have been, we really wouldn’t have the passion that we have for it. We need to make sure we preserve that opportunity for everybody.”
For adult fans of the game with young kids, getting them to stay up and watch on television late on a school night can be a mountainous task. And this problem is only exacerbated during the postseason, or Sunday Night Baseball, when late start times become the norm.
Kennedy believes something can, and should, be done about that to appeal to the young fans.
“It’s definitely a balance between the need to get the games on television and at a time when the majority of the people can watch them. What’s really my pet peeve, I don’t know about you guys, is the national games: the World Series and these jewel events that start at 8:30, 8:40pm. That’s very challenging for kids. It drives me crazy as a father of an 11-year-old and a nine year old who want to watch as much baseball as possible, but they have to go to bed at the top of the second inning. It’s frustrating. That’s something we must address.”
Moving the start times of national television games would obviously be something out of the team’s control and personal preference, but Kennedy and his colleagues do have a plan specifically for Fenway Park and how to address this problem here at home.
“What we can do locally is provide access to Fenway Park. That’s the driving force behind this new program, setting aside 25,000 free tickets for kids this year, which is great, but something I feel that might be even more popular is the student ticket program that we’re launching. It’s a $9 ticket for any high school or college student; just show your high school or college ID and you can get a ticket to Fenway Park for $9 this year. It’s a double edge sword for us: it obviously means we have the inventory and we have the tickets to sell, so that’s a negative. But on the positive it allows more fans to come in and experience Fenway.”
Boston’s “Calling All Kids” initiative has three aspects:
1. Getting People Inside Fenway Park
2. Enhance The Experience At Fenway
3. Celebrate & Strengthen Baseball Beyond Fenway Park
To that last bullet point, Kennedy says the team plans on sponsoring hundreds of Little League teams as well as refurbishing broken-down fields.
“We need to get people playing baseball and participating. I know that’s a huge focus of commissioner Rob Manfred. Youth engagement was part of his platform when he ran for commissioner,” Kennedy told Bertrand and Flynn. “That is absolutely something we want to encourage, because if kids aren’t participating they won’t have a passion for the game like we did growing up.”
Kennedy also discussed the pace of play rules, limiting distractions and keeping kids engaged while at the ball park, and much more.