Consider two pitches for a product:
“I have this incredible product. It’s fun, exciting, and you can spend hours everyday enjoying it. Better yet, it’s changing with the times and you really have to see how cool it is now!”
“Well, this product used to be great, but now it’s boring. The people producing it have disregarded all that is tried and true about the world. Basically, everything is wrong with it now!”
If those were the two pitches for the product, which one — especially if you heard it day in, day out from almost everyone who talks about the product — would be more likely to convince you to spend your money?
This isn’t rocket science, and it’s directly related to the attendance problems that are going on for the Phillies and all of Major League Baseball right now. The simple solution to the problem - everyone associated with the game needs to act like they actually like baseball and the team they cover.
This shouldn’t be a hard ask, but it’s increasingly become a major problem. The senior members of the group that is baseball writers, tweeters, commentators, broadcasters, and executives jump at any opportunity they can to criticize the game. It’s too slow. The stars are too distant. Too many strikeouts. Pitchers are too good. Hitters hit too many home runs and not enough singles. Batters are just looking for walks. The shift ruins the game. Young players don’t respect the game. Blah blah blah.
It’s all as tiresome to read and listen to as it is lazy to write and say.
This infects the national baseball commentariat as well as the local ones. I wrote about this earlier this year with respect to the Phillies broadcasters, particularly Mike Schmidt, John Kruk, Larry Andersen, and Ben Davis. Listening to or watching them broadcast a game is often like having someone who hates baseball and the Phillies complain to you for three hours. They hate the defensive shift. They don’t like the patient approach at the plate. Nothing Gabe Kapler does is what they would do. The players don’t hustle. There are too many pitching changes. The Phillies don’t approach the game the right way. And on and on.
They’re not alone in Philadelphia. Inquirer writers regularly complain about the modern game and Gabe Kapler’s management of it. They seem to have never fully accepted the Phillies’ turn to modernity and don’t miss an opportunity to tell the reader that at every chance.
So is it really any wonder that the Phillies’ attendance is struggling so much amidst a surprise winning season? Earlier this year I postulated that the team’s attendance would pick up later in the year and then even more so next year, as there’s a lag in fans jumping on the bandwagon. What I didn’t anticipate back then was that the team would have this much success . . . while still having broadcasters and writers complain about the team at every turn.
If you’re a casual fan who turns on the radio for a couple of innings and hears Andersen cantankerously complaining about everything about the team’s approach, why would you bother spending money to see a game in person? If you turn on the Sunday afternoon game and listen to Schmidt berate the players for not trying hard, is that going to make you want to buy a ticket? If you read the morning paper at the breakfast table or online and read columnists saying the game is too long because of Kapler’s use of the bullpen, are you going to rush to Citizens Bank Park?
Compare this to listening to or watching the Sixers or Eagles. (I rarely follow the Flyers, so I can’t say anything about them.) Especially when the Eagles are winning, Merrill Reese and Mike Quick are excited and upbeat. They make the listener love the Eagles and football. Same with Mark Zumoff and Alaa Abdelnaby, who are about as exciting to listen to broadcast a Sixers game as you can possibly imagine. Of course, football and baseball are different sports with different pacing than baseball, but the bottom line is that these announcers make you want to be at every game. When was the last time anyone broadcasting a Phillies game made anyone feel that way?
This morning, the Inquirer’s David Murphy wrote about the MLB attendance problem and suggested three reasons for it: the pace of the game, historical fluctuation due to economics and politics, and struggles from big-market teams. I’m not convinced that anyone cares about a few minutes here and there in a game that is always going to be at least 2.5 hours long. The other two points are possible, but I’d need more info about it than his one column.
Regardless, I think all of these points miss the major problem — it seems that most people who talk and think about baseball for a living hate the game, and locally, it seems that most people who cover the Phillies don’t like the team. When that’s the impression being given to listeners, viewers, and readers, is it any wonder that no one is showing up at the ballpark? Complaints about attendance in this environment are the equivalent of saying “here’s my awful product that is going to frustrate the hell out of you, why aren’t you buying it?”
So the solution really is simple. While understanding that there is always a legitimate role for criticism and suggestions for improvement, stop acting like grumpy old men when covering baseball and the Phillies and start acting like you actually enjoy the game and the team.
Until then, we have to lay a lot of the blame for attendance issues at baseball’s professional chattering class who are working very hard to drive fans away.