Tag Archives: major league baseball

Will Radio Take Big Swings Like Major League Baseball?

Our company has season tickets to the Durham Bulls, the iconic minor league baseball franchise fictionalized in the 1988 box office smash “Bull Durham”. The team, the AAA affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays, is almost always good. They’ve won the division in three of the past five years, six of the past ten years, and 12 of the past 20 years. They’ve claimed the league championship in four of the past six years. It’s a great team that plays in a great ballpark.

And yet, every single year, when I’m picking out which games to attend, I end up having versions of the same conversation with members of my family and several friends.

“I like going to the ballpark and having a hot dog and a beer, but baseball is so boring.”

Major League Baseball was clearly aware of this perception. What’s somewhat startling is that they did something about it. They did something big.

The most dramatic of baseball’s changes for the 2023 season was the universal adoption of a pitch clock. When there are no runners on base, pitchers have only 15 seconds between pitches to throw the next one, 20 seconds with runners on base, and 30 seconds between batters. In the past, it wasn’t unusual to see pitchers touch their cap, kick some dirt, chat with the catcher…pretty much take their grand ol’ time. Now by attaching penalties to pitch clock violations, the game should, in theory, move much faster.

And it is.

The average game time is 2 hours and 39 minutes, about a half hour shorter than last year. The games aren’t just shorter, they move faster. As a fan, your mind has less time to drift to…oh, I don’t know…your phone? You’re more engaged in the action. And though one might think baseball was always exceptionally slow, game lengths are more in line with where they were in the 1980s.

The pitch clock isn’t the only major rule change. The bases are larger, meaning the edges of first and second base are closer, meaning there’s more stolen bases and better odds of making it without getting thrown out. The number of stolen bases per game is the highest since 1999. A ban on crowding infielders on one side of second base has increased the batting average for balls in play for left-handed hitters. More hits=more exciting, right?

This is a lot of change at once for an organization (Major League Baseball) that was founded as the National League of Professional Baseball Clubs in 1876 and has a lot of tradition.

Although it’s early to be making profound proclamations, attendance and viewership are up.

It took Major League Baseball a very long time to take a good hard look at what likely was coming up in its perceptual research: “Baseball is boring.” As we often say, images are like icebergs. Slow to develop, slow to erode. The only way to change an ingrained negative image is to take big, bold swings that everyone will notice. Small fixes will not move the needle.

Baseball won’t fix the boring image overnight, and they may never do so. They’ve taken the big swings and made the changes, but now they must tell everyone about it or only the loyalists will notice. At least they’ve now got a fighting chance.

Just two years before Major League Baseball was incorporated, Gugliemo Marconi invented the “wireless telegraph” in his parent’s attic, an invention we all know led to what we now know as radio.

A form of entertainment with deeply ingrained perceptions, many of them negative, steeped in tradition, with new entertainment options swirling all around.

Taking a deep dive into perceptions of the medium would be a great first step.

Then, take big swings and tell everyone about it.

Be Like “The New Voice Of Baseball”

This has been a tough baseball playoff season for New York Mets fans like me. Our team was expected to compete for a World Series championship, but a disappointing first-round loss to the San Diego Padres left us having to wait until next year…again.

One person who will be there no matter which teams make it when the World Series opens this weekend is Joe Davis. Even if you’re a rabid baseball fan like me, that name may not ring a bell. Joe Davis is the successor to Joe Buck as FOX’s lead baseball announcer and he will be handling the play-by-play duties when the Astros and Phillies face each other in this year’s Fall Classic.

Davis was previously the television voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers, but has now moved up to the national stage, which began when he called the All-Star Game this past year. That marked the first time in 20 years that Buck didn’t handle All-Star Game play-by-play responsibilities; while many missed not hearing Buck call the game, most reviews of Davis’s work were positive.

Here’s the crazy part: Joe Davis is only 34 years old. He was 28 when he started calling Dodgers games on TV and by age 29, he replaced the legendary Vin Scully on a permanent basis.

So, how does someone so young achieve so much success in the competitive world of sports broadcasting? In Davis’s case, I believe it comes down to (1) preparation, (2) self-critique, and (3) studying storytelling.

Back in July, prior to the All-Star Game, the New York Times published an in-depth profile of Joe Davis entitled “Meet the New Voice of Baseball.” The Times claimed that “…nobody, at any age, has prepared more diligently for the chance…” that awaited Davis.

Davis does his homework, including spending time taking notes on what other sports broadcasters do well and don’t do as well. He also records and then reviews his broadcasts—a habit he started while in college, spending evenings listening to his play-by-play calls instead of chugging beers with his friends—so that he can learn from mistakes he makes while being careful to avoid beating himself over them. Perhaps most impressively, Davis transcribes some of his broadcasts so that he can study his words and think about ways to make them more concise.

My favorite part of learning more about Joe Davis is that he has read books on story structure. Storytelling separates the great sportscasters from the rest; Davis’s effort to hone his ability to tell compelling stories is part of the commitment he made to himself early in life to pursue this career path.

Doing play-by-play on a national television baseball broadcast is quite different from hosting a live radio show, voice tracking, or hosting a podcast. I believe, however, that every radio, streaming, and podcasting personality can benefit from emulating Joe Davis. Here’s how:

  1. Find other people who excel at what you do and study them closely. There’s a big difference between admiring someone and identifying what makes them especially good at their craft.


  1. Don’t view your job as done when your air shift is over, or your podcast is “in the can.” Record and listen to what you said and how you said it and consider ways to do it better the next time. Even if you work in an environment where no one is available to aircheck you, there’s no excuse for not doing it yourself.


  1. Recognize that storytelling is an art and a skill and commit to getting better at it. I suggest reading two or three books on the subject; Will Storr’s The Science of Storytelling: Why Stories Make Us Human and How to Tell Them Better is a good place to start.

For years, the mantra for athletes was “Be Like Mike.” If you’re on the air, hosting podcasts, or delivering any form of audio entertainment, I think it’s a good idea to “Be Like Joe.”




Was the Field Of Dreams Game a Success?

I love baseball. I follow my beloved New York Mets religiously (and appreciate your condolences!) and I play softball three days a week every spring and fall.

I also love Field Of Dreams. It’s an all-time favorite movie of mine that I’ve probably seen at least 50 times. In 2012, I added an extra day to an Iowa business trip just so that I could spend an afternoon playing ball on the field in Dyersville where the movie was filmed.

Me, at the Iowa site where Field Of Dreams was filmed

So when Major League Baseball announced that the White Sox and Yankees were going to play a regular season game at the site, I was hooked. Even if the game featured a match-up of teams I don’t care about and hate, respectively, the spectacle of a real major league game in an Iowa cornfield was irresistible to me.

By all accounts, the game—which took place less than two weeks ago and was broadcast nationally on FOX—was a smashing success. The FOX broadcast was widely lauded for its beautiful production values, the game itself featured a thrilling ending, and the 5.9 million people who watched it represented the biggest audience for a Major League Baseball regular season game in 16 years. The positive vibes from the event were so strong that MLB has announced that they will do it again during the 2022 season.

So why do I think there’s a problem?

It’s no secret that interest in baseball is on the decline. Participation at the youth level is down and the audience for games is getting older. Major League Baseball has been eclipsed by the NFL as America’s favorite sports league, while MMA, soccer, and eSports are generating far more interest among young people.

You may be familiar with the Pareto principle, which states that for many outcomes, roughly 80% of the consequences come from 20% of the causes. Many businesses experience this by generating about 80% of their revenue or profits from 20% of their customers.

In radio, Nielsen Audio has repeatedly demonstrated how roughly two-thirds of the Time Spent Listening to a station comes from less than a third of its Cume audience. This has led to a focus on P1 listeners, those who listen to a station more than any other. Nielsen provides tools to stations that show how—in almost every case—stations generate most of their listening from P1s.

As a result, radio stations—and many other media outlets—correctly pay close attention to the tastes and perceptions of their P1s. However, when a brand becomes too focused on what its P1s think and want, it could miss changes that are going on with lighter and/or non-users and can end up super serving an increasingly smaller segment of the broader marketplace. Therefore, research should be carefully constructed and properly analyzed so that brands gain insights into what their core users want and perceive and how that compares with what is happening beyond their core users.

Major League Baseball’s Field Of Dreams game was perhaps the ultimate P1-focused event. For a rabid baseball fan like me—a 55-year-old white guy—it was awesome. However, I fear that it did nothing—and perhaps even hurt—the game’s ability to attract a younger, more ethnically-diverse audience. My 22-year-old son was home visiting with my wife and me when the game aired, and to my dismay, I learned that he had never even seen Field Of Dreams! (I guess this shouldn’t be too surprising, given that the 1989 film came out before he was born; fortunately, I was able to correct this omission in his movie-watching experience before his visit with us was over.)

I should be clear that I don’t think the Field Of Dreams game is necessarily a bad thing. While I fear it could reinforce attributes that prevent baseball’s lighter and non-users from consuming the game more, it could work if it is balanced with other events and efforts designed to appeal beyond baseball’s P1 audience. One way Major League Baseball is doing this is by staging games between its teams at the Little League World Series each summer, which strikes me as an excellent way to engage younger fans.

Does your radio station, podcast, or streaming service have a clear picture of what its core users want and what the broader marketplace wants? If not, you can find yourself in one of two undesirable situations—catering to an increasingly smaller group of core users or being so broad in your approach that you fail to develop a core group of heavy users. Brands that can balance the ability to attract a broad audience while also engendering loyalty from a core group of heavy users are the ones that repeatedly hit home runs.