After what seems like an eternity we've finally made it. Another opening day for Major League Baseball. And while fans of the sport are a combination of emotions that can be boiled down to excitement, many across the country are just the opposite. Baseball divides the sports world with the fans being, well, fans while others will give complaints that the sport is boring and a waste of the summer. In fact, some will go as far as to claim that the sport is so divided between fans and non-fans that it is no longer America's pastime. Especially with the increased fan bases in other professional sports like football, basketball, and hockey. But there is one key aspect of professional baseball that will ensure that it always America’s pastime and that is accessibility.
Baseball always has and always will be the most accessible of all sports. Now, I need to qualify this statement from the get go and say that this excludes youth sports. Youth sports as a whole have become inaccessible except to the few families that have the nearly ridiculous amount money, time, and energy required to participate but that is a different issue altogether. What I’m talking about here is the attend and follow the professional version of the sport specifically in terms of money, location, and the media.
I’ll start with money since I thin k it’s probably the greatest of the three factors listed above. In 2016, the average cost of attending a Major League Baseball game was $72.92 for two people. This price includes the tickets, food, drink, and parking. Compare that to the NFL where, in 2016, one no premium seat would have cost $85.83. That’s right, for the price of sending 2 people to an all inclusive baseball game won’t even get you through the gates at an NFL game. Of course, these are averages so the prices of each park/stadium will vary, bit it gives you a pretty fair look at how far your dollar will go. Compare this to the NBA where the average ticket price is $78.00 and the NHL at $62.18 (2014 ticket price) and you start to see that baseball easily has the cheapest cost of attendance. Something this doesn’t include is some of the novel deal that’s are beginning to be implemented in the MLB. This season the Baltimore Orioles announced that they were running a deal where one adult upper-deck ticket came with two free children tickets. So now, for the price of one ticket you can get three people into the ball park. Deals like this make the already accessible sport even more open to everyone.
The second thing to consider is location of professional baseball teams. Now, most of the major league teams are located in the same major cities that are also home to NFL, NBA, and NHL teams. What those other leagues don’t have is the shear number of minor league affiliates that the MLB has. Of course all of these sports have minor league options but none have the same volume. Most MLB teams have a AAA, AA, and A minor league team (some even have upper and lower levels of the A team) add that up for 30 major league teams and you have at least 120 teams all across the country. Odds are if you’re in a city with any notable population there’s a minor league ball club there (look it up). Now you can’t watch these teams on TV, but even lower ticket prices allow for easy access to any level of baseball. And since ball clubs use these minor leagues to rehabilitate injured players, it’s possible you can even see your favorite major league player at one of these games!
Now, for the last point, the media coverage of baseball makes it super accessible and even adds some fun local flair to the sport. While the NFL, NBA, and NHL are really only covered by huge national networks (Fox, CBS, etc.) Most major league baseball games are covered by more local networks with only a few games a day covered by the national networks. Now, this can be a negative if you live away from your favorite team, but this can be remedied by one of those nationally covered games, or packages like MLB Extra Innings if you want to pay the extra money. Like I mentioned earlier, this has the added benefit of getting commentators that know your team and helps you feel more connected to the game, team, and sport.
Now, to be fair, all of the points above are made possible by the number of games in a season. If the other leagues played 100+ games a year they would probably be more accessible too. But that’s what makes baseball so great. It’s there when all of the other sports aren’t. It gets us through those dog days of summer. It helps us, all of us, pass the time. Making it, as it has always been, America's greatest pastime.