The position of baseball in the media landscape

There’s a moment early in the ‘Mayor of Kingstown’ pilot where Jeremy Renner’s character, Mike McClusky, complains about his role as patriarch of Kingstown’s corrupt criminal justice network: ‘This is never what I wanted. Never what I thought I would be. But hey, I’ve never been anywhere else. Even when they sent me away, they just sent me back here.”

We learn that Rider’s kingdom, the ‘20,000 lost souls’ of Kingstown’s various prisons, is not something he is proud of. Impressive as it is, it is a source of shame for him.

I wonder if MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred is facing the same battle. With the likelihood of an abbreviated spring training/regular season growing — “progress” was made today as the MLB-MLBPA agreed to continue negotiations tomorrow after an unproductive meeting rather than waiting until next week — can Manfred really be proud of MLB in 2022? Or will the 2022 season – a season likely to be shortened not by a pandemic, but by a greed-fueled stalemate between billionaires and their millionaires – be a source of internal embarrassment to Manfred?

Regardless of the level of pride Manfred places on his product, or even the sheer amount of money it brings in, MLB stands for one certainty: It is that America’s pastime is no longer a nationalized affair. The sport’s slow pace and lack of insult has led to national disinterest and an aging fan base: The median age of an MLB fan is 57 — up from 52 in 2000, and older than the NFL’s (50 ) and the NBA (42). In addition, only 7% of MLB viewers are under the age of 18. In turn, MLB’s reliance on regional broadcast networks for ratings and revenue is beginning to falter. Attendance dropped by 33.9% from 2019 to 2021, and regional sports networks also saw a 12% drop in average household viewership. In addition, 12 of the 29 regional markets saw a decline in viewership.

While MLB is certainly not on its last legs, it is in danger of aging its fan base. Sure, the next 3-5 years aren’t a big concern, but what about the next 10-15 years? 15-20? If the league fails to gain a younger audience and greater national recognition, America’s pastime could be left entirely in the past.

boohoo. Baseball is boring, we get it. What does this have to do with the Phillies?

Well, in light of Thursday’s announcement that former Phillies Kevin Frandsen will be leaving his position as road race color analyst on the Phillies radio broadcast, quite a bit actually. In regards to baseball’s complex position in the national media landscape, Frandsen’s departure opens up more than a position along Scott Franzke, starting a dialogue on the team’s radio and television broadcasts as a whole.

Back in April, I wrote about the transforming power from listening to baseball on the radio – how a moment spent listening to a baseball game adds another memory of a time capsule, one that can only be accessed through the audio of the broadcast. It’s an appreciation for baseball in its purest form – a game that becomes a part of who you are, wherever you are.

My bigger point, however, was the untapped potential of the medium. Although it is the oldest form of broadcasting, radio may be the key to getting younger fans for the game.

Baseball’s ability to function as a story on radio broadcasts can stand on its own. What it needs to thrive with new audiences is a structure that creates excitement around every broadcast – an extension of the radio network.

People today are constantly trying to immerse themselves in another world. One of the most popular ways to indulge in escapism is podcasts. Rather than simply putting the Phillies broadcast under the sports-talk rigmarole of listeners and pre-game interviews, it should be marketed through streaming services like Spotify and Apple podcasts. If every game were broadcast not just on the radio, but as an episode of an ongoing podcast, the Phillies could be much more accessible to a younger audience. Throughout the week, there were several episodes featuring player interviews, analysis, and storylines for the upcoming radio broadcast. If packaged as a podcast, each game would not be a standalone event, but a chapter in that season’s story — a story that exists after the 9th inning and also encompasses the humanity of the sport. Baseball, as a story full of heroes and villains, was able to reach audiences that never saw it as anything more than a televised sport.

The tone and content of Phillies’ broadcasts, both on radio and television, is also interesting. What’s clear in both is how each caters to their audience, an older, hyper-local group – trying to be “folkish” and traditional, even at the expense of analysis. It’s a nice balance between appearing recognizable and boring the audience to death with statistics, but

On the radio, color commentator and Philadelphia icon Larry Anderson has mercifully treated himself to broadcasts of home games. While I love Anderson and he makes an excellent match with play-by-play man Scott Franzke, the radio broadcast feels like an afternoon spent with Anderson and not one listening to the game. All too often, the dialogue and story sharing between Franzke and Anderson dominate the action of the game.

On television, Tom McCarthy knows how to juggle various analysts, including the often insufficiently prepared, not quite camera-ready Mike Schmidt. My only complaint is with the color analysts – Jon Kruk and Ben Davis – along with the “Phillies Postgame Live” show that airs after each game. While Kruk isn’t stupid, he sure wants you to think he is. His assumed persona of a bumbling old miser, attempting to appear popular again, often stands in the way of shrewd insight. Davis, on the other hand, isn’t folk, he’s just relentlessly negative – as if he has extremely high hopes for this team. His negativity is echoed throughout the broadcast by Ricky Bottalico and Michael Barkann, who play after the game. They grow increasingly frustrated when they parse a Phillies loss. In a season filled with small losses, the telecast was disappointed.

Featured Image: Beyond the Bell

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