America’s pastime is under fire by arguably its greatest player, Bryce Harper.
The brash reigning National League MVP wants to change the game of baseball, specifically the unwritten rules that govern conduct.
“Baseball’s tired. It’s a tired sport. You can’t express yourself. You can’t do what people in other sports do,” Bryce Harper told ESPN.
In baseball, a player’s freedom of expression has traditionally been limited by fear of retribution. For example, if a power hitter like Bryce, celebrates too much after a home run, he can expect to get hit with a fastball during his next at-bat.
But maybe baseball needs to abandon its old-school thinking and embrace the 21st century, where athletes like LeBron James and Cam Newton are known as much for their flair and charisma as their exploits on the court or field. Bryce Harper seemingly just wants baseball to be more fun for players and fans alike, especially young sports fans.
Baseball fans are getting older
The MLB’s profits may be up now, but its future does not look so bright. Many young sports fans complain that the game of baseball is too slow and boring. In fact, the median age of a baseball television viewer is 56 years old, according to USA Today.
For a little perspective, the NBA attracts a much younger audience, as the typical basketball fan age is 37. Without an influx of young baseball fans, the MLB could become irrelevant in a generation.
Maybe the MLB should embrace Bryce Harper’s message
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred is well aware of the urgency of the situation and is trying to institute rules to speed up the game and attract younger fans.
Rather than focus on a pitching clock or fewer mound visits, the MLB must capitalize on its star power and embrace players like Bryce Harper, a once-in-a-generation talent. Manfred can look to the NBA, which has successfully marketed its superstars for years, for a blueprint.
The first step is to let Bryce Harper be himself on and off the field.
Some will argue that Harper is too arrogant and flashy, but unless your name is Steph Curry, you’re not going to be universally loved.
There is nothing wrong with being polarizing; it’s much better than inspiring indifference. LeBron James is polarizing. Cam Newton is polarizing. But they are also both insanely popular and compelling.
Bryce Harper is a dynamic personality with immense talent and it’s time for Major League Baseball to loosen up and get behind its biggest star.
Conversely, what’s bad for baseball could be great for student-athletes
The declining popularity of baseball is a problem for owners and professional players, but student-athletes can ultimately benefit from the waning fan interest.
Less popular sports have less participation and lower participation sports offer greater opportunities for student-athletes. Currently, nearly seven percent of high school baseball players continue their careers in college, which is a higher percentage than both football and basketball.
Baseball may not be the most captivating sport to watch on television, yet it offers high school student-athletes a great opportunity to continue playing at the next level.
If you’d like to learn more about how you can play at the next level, the best way to get started is with a recruiting profile.