With Major League Baseball’s opening day on the horizon, baseball fans across the country will have the chance to do something that the vast majority haven’t been able to do in about a year and a half — that is, see a game in person.
Following a pandemic-shortened 2020 season, the league is likely looking forward to a reset with (at least some) spectators in its ballparks. And if there’s one league that would benefit the most from allowing fans in the stands, it is probably the MLB.
CivicScience data show that those who follow the MLB “very closely” attend sporting events more regularly than the biggest fans of the NFL, NBA, and NHL. This could be because there are more MLB games per season than other leagues and ticket prices are relatively low.
The stresses of the pandemic — and possibly the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal — have taken a toll on overall interest levels in the MLB. Things had been going smoothly for the league from 2016 to 2019, but since 2020, disinterest in pro baseball has skyrocketed.
The percentage of those who said they follow the MLB “not at all” has risen from 40% in 2019 to 47% so far in 2021. Perhaps even more concerning for the league, the proportion of those who say they follow pro baseball “very” or “somewhat closely” has shrunk from about one-quarter (24%) of U.S adults in 2019 to about one-fifth (19%) today.
More than two-thirds of U.S. adults also say they don’t plan to follow the upcoming baseball season at all.
It’s not especially surprising that men were more likely than women to be interested in the upcoming season. But the league’s real issue is the lack of serious interest among young people (ages 18 to 24).
The Bright Side
However, who’s to say how things could change with the league — and the world — slowly returning to a sense of normalcy? After all, 23% of U.S. adults say they have a “tradition” of watching opening day games, including games not involving their hometown team.
And as the nation in general emerges from the pandemic, Americans’ attitudes toward sports could very well shift. Thirty-eight percent of Americans said the stresses of the pandemic directly made them less interested in sports. That’s compared with just 10% who said they were more interested in sports mid-pandemic.
Plus, baseball’s historical status as “America’s Pastime” might buoy interest in the league from dipping too low. In CivicScience’s March 2021 survey, 53% of U.S. adults who had an opinion on the matter said the MLB had the most interesting history of any American sports league — easily beating out the NFL (30%) and blowing away the NHL (10%) and NBA (6%).
While the early outlook for interest in the upcoming baseball season certainly isn’t a home run, it remains to be seen whether the addition of fans to stadiums — and the “light at the end of the tunnel” of the coronavirus pandemic — will give the MLB a much-needed boost this year.