Sunday, March 14, 2010

Do We Love Baseball Less Than We Did 50 Years Ago?

I'm reading "Veeck As In Wreck," by Bill Veeck. He owned several MLB teams over the years and pioneered all sorts of giveaways and gimmicks to get fans through the turnstiles, most notably sending midget Eddie Gaedel up to bat for the St. Louis Browns in 1951.

His autobiography, written in 1962, recounts how baseball was starting to face competition from other forms of entertainment:
We are in the entertainment business, competing for the entertainment dollar. Competition is tougher. In 1902, there wasn’t much else you could do unless you wanted to stay home and sing along with the player piano. We are now competing directly with horse racing and harness racing. (At the time I was surveying Pittsburgh, the team’s greatest asset, to my way of thinking, was that there was no race track in the area.) Like everyone else, we are competing with television. Golf has become a mass sport. There has been an upsurge in individual sports like boating and sailing, fishing and hunting. Indirectly, we are competing with pro football and pro basketball and I suspect that one day we will be competing with soccer.
Today, the thought of horse racing as the primary threat to baseball's popularity is rather amusing. Now, communication and media consumption are faster and cheaper than ever, and the world is expanding culturally and in terms of sheer population. There's a thousand other reasons why being a baseball fan, or doing any other activity, is relatively more expensive than it was 50 years ago.

There's just so much to do these days, and whatever we're giving up to be a baseball fan represents an opportunity cost. While there are no doubt still hardcore baseball fans among us, for most people, watching baseball has to increasingly be juggled among competing activities.