THE BLOG
10/21/2014 11:30 am ET Updated Dec 21, 2014

Selig Counted Money While Baseball Lost the Next Generation of Fans

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Several years ago, Joey Boyd of Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, wanted to introduce his 4-year-old son, Will, to the game of baseball by signing him up with a membership to the New York Yankees' kids' fan club. Boyd balked when he saw the team charged $26.

Boyd began checking other teams' websites and found nearly all Major League teams charged kids to join their fan clubs.

Boyd wrote Baseball commissioner A.H. "Bud" Selig to appeal to owners to not charge kids. It would be a loss leader for the teams, Boyd explained, because it would draw countless kids to the sport of baseball.

Selig responded by saying, "I will certainly discuss this matter with the clubs at Major League meetings."

Selig included an autographed baseball for Will.

Nothing changed. Most teams continued to charge kids to join their fan clubs.

This anecdote represents Selig's 22-year run as baseball commissioner, which ends in January.

Baseball isn't about kids or even adults to Selig. It's not about fathers playing catch with sons, keeping score, cheering for your favorite player, or, in the case of my own son, hoping to get a foul ball or a player's autograph.

To Selig, the only autograph a kid needs is Selig's. And to Selig and baseball owners, the only autograph worth having is the treasury secretary's signature on U.S. currency.

Major League Baseball has made billions of dollars in television revenues during the Selig years.

But what does it profit a sport to gain so much money but lose its future?

An ESPN study concluded that the NFL remains the most popular league among 12- to 17-year-olds in the United States, with 38.9 percent of respondents naming it their favorite. The NBA was next at 30.1 percent, surpassing NCAA football at 27.5 percent. Next were college basketball at 23.8 percent, the MLB and Major League Soccer at 18.0 percent, and the National Hockey League at 8.9 percent.

Selig's legacy may be that he lost the next generation of baseball fans. This is Selig's last World Series. Perhaps nothing demonstrates how baseball has turned off young sports fans than how young sports fans have turned off the World Series.

Television ratings were up for last year's World Series. And so was the age of the viewers who watched it. The average age of those who watched the series was nearly 54, which is believed to be the oldest in history.

On the other hand, only 4.1 percent of children between the ages of 6-17 watched the series, the Nielsen media research firm reported.

Selig, team owners, and the networks start most postseason games at 8:30 p.m. EST or later to generate primetime advertising dollars. By the time the game gets into the third inning, most kids -- or at least those who are still vaguely interested in baseball -- have gone to bed.

The World Series is baseball's biggest stage and yet the lights are out. If a baseball game is played at midnight and no one sees it, does it make a difference?

Children, who care less and less about baseball, grow up to be adults, who care little or nothing about baseball.

Unlike Selig and baseball, the NFL and the NBA understand that if you get the attention of fans when they're young, they can be yours for life. Football and basketball are better suited to younger fans. They're faster, more physical and play better on television.

But the NFL and NBA also market their games to kids.

Selig sends out an autographed baseball and goes back to counting his money.

Will Boyd is now 12.

He cares nothing about baseball.