The World Baseball Classic is not free of controversy. We have the risk of injury, the concerns with how players are being used by their countries and the questionable future of the WBC as it doesn't seem to have gained as much popularity as was hoped. However, there is another issue that must be mentioned. The Latino fans are strong and passionate and do not lack in number. This is hardly surprising as Latin countries have been the highest producers of MLB talent over the course of the last decade or more.
But baseball is America's past time so shouldn't the USA fans be loud and proud as well? It's one thing if Canada doesn't have an enormous fan showing or if the Italians don't have a major following. Italy and Canada aren't exactly known for their love of the sport of baseball. Canada is a hockey nation and Italy is soccer first. You would think with baseball being America's past time and all that they would have home field advantage when playing in a US based stadium, but they haven't. The Puerto Rican fans were an overwhelming majority in last night's game at Petco Park. Why is it that so many passionate baseball fans here in the United States don't seem to care about the World Baseball Classic? I will do my best to answer this question in the coming paragraphs.
USA has been losing its baseball fans for quite some time now. Targeting the younger generation has been difficult. In a country where kids have so much technology at the touch of a finger, it is understandable that our youth wouldn't be interested. They need constant action so they watch sports like football rather than baseball.
These fans are the easy ones to explain as they don't watch Major League baseball let alone WBC baseball. What's more intriguing is why the older generations seem to be disinterested as well.
So why doesn't baseball's core fan base seem to care about the WBC? Could it be the years they have gone without baseball being played at the Olympic level? Could it be that they are just confused at the complexities of the rules for WBC tournament play? Could it be that they are focused on spring training and their respective favorite teams more than they are on rooting on their country? Is it because so many American born players decline playing for their country?
I think it's a combination of everything. Picture it like this. The average age of the American baseball fan is 53 as of 2015 according to a report by ESPN. This is 6 years older than the average football fan and 16 years older than the average basketball fan. These older groups of people are often times not used to change and not interested in seeing an additional tournament added to an already perfect sports in their minds. As a result, they decline to watch.
You might say baseball fans have been clamoring for the sport to be added to the Olympics for decades. Why would the older fans not be interested in watching the WBC when they finally do create an Olympic level event for them? That is an excellent point and while I agree from a general standpoint, I think that there is a small percentage of baseball's core fan base that isn't interested in watching the WBC for baseball purity reasons. However, I think this is the least accurate reason of the above listed answers.
Ok... so what about how complicated the WBC tournament is? Yes, without a doubt the complexity and the confusion that has ensued from the WBC since its inception has proven to be a measurable obstacle. I have the opportunity to attend the WBC during its second round in San Diego this week and I overheard numerous members of the media confused about the scenarios for advancing and for elimination with various teams.
Not only that but a controversy occurred with Mexico ultimately appealing their own elimination. Confusion ensued when a tiebreaker that was determined by how many runs were given up on how many innings of play caused the Mexicans to be bounced from the tournament. Venezuela, Mexico and Italy all had a 1-2 record at the conclusion of the first round. Italy notched a 10-9 walkout victory over Mexico to end the first round. They scored 5 runs to win in walk off fashion in the bottom of the 9th, while Mexico did not record an out. Since Mexico was playing in the field on defense during the bottom of the 9th inning, they believed it would count as an inning.
To their surprise, it did not because they did not record an out. This resulted in Mexico appealing the ruling and claiming that the rule is vaguely written which very well may be true. Ultimately if you cannot understand what you are watching how can you truly enjoy it? The stakes in which a game is being played makes the significance of a game. Each and every situational decision is vital. When fans watch their country play and do not understand the scenarios for them to advance and what they need to do to avoid elimination, they lose interest.
Alright, that makes sense... so what about all the fans more excited about their own team starting up again with Spring Training? Are they really too focused on spring training to watch the WBC? Are they worried their star players will get hurt when they play in the tournament? Yes, all of the above. The baseball purists of America's core fan base are not interested in the WBC because they care more about the tournament they have watched each year for their entire lives, the MLB season. They want to see their teams win a World Series. They are often times worried about losing their stars to injury in the WBC but are also more focused on the main goal of winning a World Series. This has proven to be a valid concern as injuries have occurred at a concerning rate in recent years at the WBC.
Ok got it. So what about the USA talent pool? Is that a factor? When players decline to go to the WBC does it really affect the interest of the US fan base? Yes, of course it does. Talent creates excitement and excitement creates viewership. While the USA team is extremely talented, they could be far better if some of the best American born players had not declined to enter the tournament. Arguably baseball's best player, Mike Trout did not join team USA, Bryce Harper is also not suiting up. An elite class of starting pitching declined the WBC including Clayton Kershaw, Noah Syndergaard, Madison Bumgarner and Justin Verlander. As a result, USA baseball is relying on a pool of second tier professionals. As great as the likes of Paul Goldschmidt, Buster Posey and Eric Hosmer are the star power just isn't there. The big names that USA baseball should be showcasing when stepping onto an Olympic level playing stage are not there.
Ultimately, there is a lot of reasons why USA fans aren't showing up to the stadium and aren't watching on TV. All of these reasons are partially accurate and provide a deeper insight into the mind of America's baseball fans and what really makes them tick.
So what is the solution to all of this?
I don't think there is one as there are too many moving parts for every problem to be adequately rectified. If the WBC is going to thrive in the USA, players have to be willing to take the risk and go out there. At the same time, fans have to be able to overcome their concerns about injuries and the only way that can occur is if injuries are reduced drastically. This is vital because more emphasis will be put on even one injury in the WBC because of the argument that it could have been prevented.
If they did not join their country or if the USA was not a part of the WBC at all these injuries would not have happened. The easiest aspect of that can be solved, however is the complexities of WBC play. There is a high amount of confusion with the current format. Changing that format into a simpler and more appropriately explained system could prove beneficial in the ratings.