We are about to complete the 2023 regular season of Major League Baseball that experienced what has been described as the greatest rules change in the history of sports. Some have gone so far to predict these changes will ultimately save the sport. These changes include bigger bases, no infield shift before the pitch and, of course, the addition of the “Pitch Clock,” a new rule designed to shorten the game that has averaged over 3 hours in length over the last several seasons.
No rule change in any sport has garnered more controversy than the Pitch Clock. In its previous 100-plus years of existence, baseball has been ungoverned by time. The new Pitch Clock now limits the time pitchers have to deliver the ball in an attempt to shorten the game. The new rule states that the pitcher must be in his windup within 20 seconds. The new rule affects batters, too, who now must be ready with 8 seconds remaining on the clock or suffer the consequences of a called strike. No more of the seemingly endless rituals of adjusting the batting gloves and stepping in and out of the batter’s box. And the new rules seem to be working! Batting averages, stolen bases, and scoring have all increased this season, in addition to attendance growing 8% across the league. AND, games are on average 28 minutes shorter than previous years. Baseball’s huge gamble appears to have paid off!
But why the changes? Baseball has always been about tradition and legacy. While other sports like basketball and football have seen and embraced many rule changes over the years, baseball has almost steadfastly resisted change. Baseball purists are loudly howling about these new rules, but many felt they were necessary due to declining interest in the sport in both attendance and viewership. According to Forbes, baseball attendance declined in 2022 an additional 5.7% from 2019 (omitting the two COVID years) and marked the 9th season of attendance decline in a row. Also in 2022, World Series viewership was down while, in contrast, NFL Super Bowl viewership was up. In today’s short-attention-span TikTok world, fans were clearly losing interest in the sport that was seemingly dragging and baseball officials recognized it was time to change or continue the audience decline.
Radio has certainly adapted over the years. Before our time, radio morphed into what we recognize today due to the advent of television. As the airwaves became more competitive, we have seen radio specialize in distinct formats targeting specific audiences. Radio has survived 8-track tapes, cassettes in cars, satellite radio and even the internet up to this point. As Paragon’s Mike Henry has said, “Radio is the cockroach of all media.” It will always be with us, but in what form and how relevant will it be in the future? What will be the next major event to cause radio to change and when?
Many proponents of the baseball rules change felt the moves were necessary to make the product more engaging and much more compelling to attract a new generation of fans. We must acknowledge that radio audiences are also shrinking, so as radio programmers, we should be looking to do the same with our stations. With attention spans continuing to shrink, listener payoffs from compelling content need to adjust and improve. The same-old same-old won’t cut it moving forward. New formats and new ideas are needed to keep radio relevant with a new generation of listeners. We should build on the past, not allow ourselves to live there.
Once described as America’s Pastime, baseball simply became America’s past time. The game was losing its relevance as well as audience, but now has taken important steps to improve and move forward into the future. Radio needs to be ready and willing to do the same and should learn from this important lesson.