MLB Relaxes Rules, Encourages ASG Selfies To Up "Cool" Factor
MLB worked closely with players and the MLBPA prior to last night's All-Star Game "to relax rules regarding the use of cell phones on the field in hopes that it would encourage them to share their points of views and All-Star experience," according to Mike Oz of YAHOO SPORTS. Orioles SS Manny Machado during the second inning "whipped out his phone and snapped a selfie" with Dodgers LF Matt Kemp after Kemp hit a double, while the Angels' Mike Trout, Yankees' Aaron Judge and Red Sox' Mookie Betts posed for a selfie in the outfield during a pitching change. Trout said, "We're out there taking selfies and talking to the fans. When they're introductions, going live on social media. I think fans want to see that." Astros 2B Jose Altuve: "Every single player was taking selfies. I'm really happy they let us do that this year." MLB Senior VP/Marketing Barbara McHugh: "Fans love seeing the personalities of their favorite players come to life and tonight they were treated to just that." Oz notes Astros manager A.J. Hinch is "smart enough to see what things like this mean for baseball's image" at a time when critics are calling on MLB to better market players like Trout. He said, "There’s a ton of personality in our game, and sometimes our sport gets a little bit of a side-swipe at us, that we are this boring sport that methodically goes through the games. And yet if you see -- if you allow the players to be themselves and you allow them to showcase themselves, this is the biggest showcase event, especially since the game competition side of it hasn’t mattered for a few years. You’re amazed what you find out about these guys” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 7/18).
MAKE BASEBALL FUN AGAIN: ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick writes last night's game included some "entertaining glimpses of players letting down their hair and doing their best to engage." Trout, Kemp, Rockies CF Charlie Blackmon, Indians SS Francisco Lindor and Nationals RF Bryce Harper were "among the players mic'd up for the national TV broadcast" on Fox, while Indians P Trevor Bauer early in the game "took to his Twitter account and marveled at the parade of pitchers lighting up the radar gun." Lindor said, "This is a show. We are entertainers. People want to see home runs. People want to see strikeouts. They also want to feel they're in the dugout with us or out at shortstop with me. Having the mic on and being able to interact with guys on the field, that was awesome." Hinch said, "For this event, it was great trial and error. I don't know how it played out socially. But from the players' perspective, to be able to let loose a little bit and enjoy each other was pretty cool" (ESPN.com, 7/18). Fox' Joe Buck prior to the start of the game said, "We are going to get to talk to some more players during the game while they are out there on the field." Fox' John Smoltz: "I would have loved to have done it on the mound (during my career) and just give the viewers something different" ("MLB All-Star Game," Fox, 7/17).
IDENTITY CRISIS: In Richmond, Michael Phillips writes it is "possible that the nation's pastime has never been less cool." The average age of an MLB viewer is 57, which is "less than ideal for a sport trying to reinvent itself in the digital age." Trout earlier this week shrugged off concerns that he was not marketing himself enough by "noting that he's focused on building a career that will last for years, not on the broader trends that are being pinned on him." Meanwhile, leaguewide attendance is down 6%, and with an "increased emphasis on strikeouts and home runs, the average baseball game features a hit once every 10 or 11 minutes of real time." Those indicators are "all negative, in spite of the fact that the talent in baseball is as strong as it's ever been." But trends "have a way of correcting themselves." Perhaps Trout is "boring," but Tim Duncan "didn't seem to hurt the NBA's fan base by having the personality of stale toast while dominating the league." MLB on Sunday threw an "opening night gala at the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture (cool), with an appearance from rapper Common (cool) and a variety of food-truck empanadas (cool)." The league is "determined not to become the next boxing or horse racing" (RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH, 7/18).
CHANGING OF THE GUARD? USA TODAY's Dan Wolken writes with a "wildly successful World Cup just ending and MLS on the rise, it's not inconceivable that soccer's popularity is going to grow at a rate to surpass baseball" by the '26 World Cup. While it is "unfair to equate a once-in-four-years energy of an international event such as the World Cup with baseball that grinds away day in, day out over a seven-month season, it would be naive to ignore the potential that soccer holds to disrupt the pro sports landscape that has held firm for decades" (USA TODAY, 7/18).