Another MLB season kicks off Thursday, with the Astros looking to fend off the game’s biggest stars, like Shohei Ohtani, Aaron Judge, and Juan Soto, to defend their 2022 World Series title. Last season marked a return to something resembling normalcy, after a pandemic-shortened season in 2020 and limited capacity crowds in 2021, and this year brings a new slate of rule changes. But who will be watching?

According to CivicScience’s ongoing MLB sentiment data, thus far in 2023, interest levels are completely unchanged from the year prior (23% following it ‘very / somewhat closely’). After a monthslong lockout threatened to shorten the season – but was resolved at the eleventh hour, and allowed the full 162 games – interest rebounded slightly from the rock-bottom 2020 and 2021 seasons. 

After years of wondering how to broaden the fanbase and accelerate the pace of play, Major League Baseball is implementing some drastic rule changes ahead of Opening Day this year. Pitchers will be on the clock, the infield shift is banned, and the bases are larger to incentivize more steals on the basepaths. But will any of it move the needle with non-fans?

A third of U.S. adults say the rule changes make them at least a little more likely to watch MLB games this year. But it seems to be making waves largely with casual fans who already follow the league at least ‘somewhat closely’ – 1-in-4 U.S. adults in this camp say the rule changes make them ‘much more likely’ to watch MLB this year. So even if it doesn’t convert many brand-new fans, reviving interest levels among existing fans might be enough to improve the league’s short and long-term fortunes.

For Opening Day specifically, interest is up from 2021. Eight percent of U.S. adults now say they ‘watch a few’ games on Opening Day (compared to 6% in 2021), and those watching their favorite team have increased from 14% to 15% since 2021.

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