How MLB Can Catch Up to NFL, NBA in Popularity

Does MLB need a makeover? Baseball purists may not think so, but to hold the attention of a younger generation of fans, commissioner Rob Manfred needs to make some changes.

There’s no denying it: changing baseball to become more popular with a younger generation is bound to prove highly unpopular with the sport’s current fan base. Of all the major sports, baseball purists are the most prevalent and vocal. It’s why the game is routinely dubbed as outdated and boring by those who weren’t hooked at a young age.

That said, those who claim the game needs to be “saved” are flat-out wrong. While average attendance dropped 1.1 percent last year, that figure was still the sport’s 11th-highest year ever. Primetime games dominated cable television last summer and game seven of last season’s World Series drew the highest overnight rating since game seven of the 2001 World Series, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Baseball isn’t broken or dying, but it could use a tune-up. So how does MLB keep up with the times without alienating its die-hards? Manfred and co. should start here:

Bonus Batter

Sports Illustrated‘s Tom Verducci recently proposed the “bonus batter”, a rule that would allow teams to choose one player to come to the plate during a crucial moment in the game. The availability of a team’s best hitter in big spots would provide a jolt of drama to the end of games, similar to Tom Brady running the two-minute drill or Steph Curry getting the last-second shot out of a timeout.

Baseball fans have been blessed with a lot of walk-offs this season, but that isn’t always going to be the case. If baseball is going to capitalize on the strength of its stars, they need to be more involved in the end of games.

Force Pitchers to Face At Least Three Batters

The way that teams are using relievers makes the back end of games a bit boring. If relievers were required to face a minimum of three batters, we would see an improved pace-of-play and much more competitive at-bats late in games. While we’re at it, a single 25-man roster for April through August and a 30-man roster for September would help, as well. Not to mention, a uniform DH rule (but we won’t go that far).

Institute an Electronic Strike Zone

The technology for an electronic strike zone is available, but MLB has not stepped up to the plate to adopt it. It’s time to agree on a single strike zone — pitches are throwing too hard and the umpires have too many different strike zones. The system could be used as a safety net, allowing umpires to remain a part of the game, rather than controlling it.

Eliminate Shifts

Shifts have become a major issue when it comes to balls being put in play. Baseball has become far too much about all or nothing — home runs or strikeouts — and the shift is certainly not helping. Requiring two players to be positioned to the left side of second base would allow for a more natural share of action occurring in the field. More hits and more great defensive plays — who doesn’t want that?

Eliminate Late Postseason Games

You want a younger crowd? Play your biggest games at hours of the day that kids are actually awake.

Whether it’s getting better umps or having earlier games, the MLB needs to do something to stay relevant among media savvy sports like the NFL and NBA.