‘Tis the season for baseball navel-gazing. While Bud Selig gave his annual “State of the Game” address at the All-Star Game (more on that later) and newspapers lamented the days of yore when kids watched their heroes through peepholes and played stickball in the street, there was an interesting report on the local Fox affiliate yesterday about the decline of youth enrollment in Tampa-area baseball leagues.
There is a line of thought that getting kids involved is essential to the success of a sport. There might be some truth to this, although millions watch MMA or boxing without ever getting into the ring. Same perhaps with football. But we will go with the idea that youth enrollment equals long-term fans and long-term fans equal future ticket and merchandise buyers. I think that is a fair assumption.
Three things came to mind as I watched the news report:
The lack of minorities at the UT Baseball Camp
According to a recent Harris poll, 42% of Hispanics, 37% of Whites, and 34% of African-Americans follow baseball. Most of the kids in the video were white or possibly Hispanic. I didn’t see one African-American kid. That could be because of location, cost, or marketing. I have no idea.
The uncited little league
A local little league claims enrollment is down 20% over five years. This might be a big deal. Is that total for all ages? If it is for t-ball or the younger leagues, are parents not promoting baseball as a sport? If it is in the older leagues, age 8 and up, are kids leaving the little league system? Do they not want to play anymore? What is the retainment rate of area little leagues? Five years ago, the economy went downhill. Are parents not able to afford the leagues? Are parents too busy working to bring kids to games and practices? How much of the issue is the kids and how much is their environment?
What are coaches or marketing people doing about the lower rates? According to the report, enrollment at the UT Baseball Camp is fine. Instead of blaming the predicament on video games or cell phones or some other technological boogieman, what is the plan of action? Is there a plan of action? Are coaches or representatives going to schools, spreading the word, handing out flyers, etc? I’m sure many parents want their kids to be involved. Are coaches engaging parents to see what they need in regards to support to get kids to and from practices and games?
Sometimes all it takes is having a few kids play and other kids will join.
Last weekend, while driving through the Lake Magdalene area of Tampa, I saw a field of African-American kids playing baseball in the middle of the day. None of them had baseball gloves or uniforms, they were playing with a broomstick, and they were using a garbage pail as a backstop. I felt like stopping and playing an inning or two. Or at least buying them some bottles of water.
For whatever reason, baseball is popular target for naysayers. The sport is a multi-billion dollar industry that is no threat of dying out anytime this generation or the next. Yet the reports persist. Not to say more people shouldn’t be ambassadors for the game and we shouldn’t build more fields and facilities, but baseball is just fine.