As MLB Surges with Young, Diverse Audiences, They Double Down on Old White Men
All that and a Melancholia clip.
I’m not sure why, but I’ve developed (rekindled?) a crush on baseball this season. Maybe it’s because I took the last few off, especially 2020 when it just didn’t seem right to be doing anything but staring out the window and waiting naked in a field Melancholia-style for the slow-burning apocalypse to take me. (Granted, actual live baseball is a close second to that as far as actual brain activity goes.)
But this season, even though things aren’t back to “normal” (they never will be), baseball has set the hook.
Maybe it’s because I’m (slowly) melting into their key demographic: 57-year-old white male is their median, the scariest cohort in general; but also, further proof that I’ve boarded the down escalator.
In watching the Padres-Marlins on Wednesday, the San Diego broadcast did an in-game vignette with MLB commissioner Rob Manfred who was in attendance. Manfred, himself a pro's pro at being white, and 62, and (in that moment) seemingly enjoying four non-recyclable plastic bottles of water at once, is the manifestation of the sport’s key audience.
The commish is also decidedly anti-player, anti-union, and more than likely anti-this-planet-that-has-given-him-so-much. While on, he promoted the “Field of Dreams” game—a gimmick in the style of the NHL where one “fantasy” matchup happens at a neutral locale, which means something to older white men I think.
In this case, it was a Yankees-White Sox matchup last night in the same cornfield in BFE, Iowa, where they filmed the Kevin Costner vehicle released in late April of 1989, back when Manfred was a swinging and svelte 30-year-old.
Manfred also talked about having other one-offs in international spots like Mexico City and Montreal, not a novel idea—MLB continues to blow out its carbon footprint in time to most of the top 100 major corporations doing their worst as the world burns; never stopping once to question or even acknowledge that eventually—and eventually is over the next decade—if they continue such behavior literally there’ll be nothing left but the Earth they scorched in their wake.
Change drastically now to prevent one’s demise and the death of all of us. Or do nothing and die with us.
Die with us—but we’ll be in slightly more comfortable, or at least protected, confines—always seems to be the answer.
So it goes, on a clear, balmy, 72-degree San Diego night in the comfort of the owners’ box, the closest out-of-control wildfire raging a couple of hundred miles to his north, Manfred doesn’t feel a thing.
And it’s because he’s willing to set fire to his own enterprise if it means immediate profit and burning the toe-hold with those who’ve shown an emerging interest. On Aug. 9, it was reported that MLB was in “significant negotiations” with sports-bro-lifestyle website Barstool about hosting games and MLB-sponsored gambling content.
Barstool founder Dave Portnoy is anti-union, misogynist, sexist, and racist—for starters. His sites’ viewers share the same traits and have a Fox-news (and worse) mentality of the oppressors being the oppressed.
Portnoy, the self-proclaimed El Presidente of Barstool (what’s with abusive white brosephs and their awful Spanish pseudonyms?), has a rap sheet of antics so annoying, dumb, and damaging—it’s no wonder he hasn’t yet run for office (shit, I’m sorry I even thought that.)
In a 2016 segment about former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem, Portnoy said: “So I’m going to say something that’s racist,” explaining he thought Kaepernick was “an ISIS guy… Throw a head wrap on this guy, he’s a terrorist” and then followed that up with a tweet (since deleted) of a picture of Kaepernick and Osama bin Laden side by side with the caption, “Anybody who disagrees with me saying Kaepernick looks like Bin Laden is a moron. #factsonly.”
In 2019 Portnoy was under investigation by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on charges that he illegally threatened to fire his workers if they unionize.
By December of that year, Portnoy settled with the NLRB, which required that he, among other things, delete his threatening tweets and remove any potential anti-union material created by Barstool Sports.
He then famously met with Donald Trump for a few hours in July 2020 and nodded at his every lie and misrepresentation with zero cunning or journalistic integrity.
Portnoy has been a proponent of blackface, has referred to himself as “uncancellable." has told black NWHL player Saroya Tinker that she “should be in jail” for calling him and Barstool racist, and has encouraged his many sycophant followers to spew similar racist, sexist, and transphobic garbage. He's engaged in a long and calculated harassment campaign against ESPN employee Samantha Ponder.
Portnoy loves the art of the con. He loves being that sentient white guy troll, a living breathing, mean boy reanimated Stifler—the insecure lying, threatening, cheating, bullying douchebag in the dorms, but all grown up and look at me, I have millions, and you can too (you can’t.)
Punch down, use your platform for bad, and hook into the online gambling machine to dupe millions out of their hard-earned pay, and everything will go your way.
It’s not just the fact that we know Portnoy’s bit is to act out and act the fool—it’s to get his millions of followers to do the same. It’s permission to be on your worst behavior in the most critical of times when compassion, empathy, and kindness are really the only resources we haven’t completely exhausted.
The funny thing is, baseball is known for its metrics-based mastery. Nerds poring over endless spreadsheets and finding value in specific players doing specific things at specific times. You’d think then MLB would… pay attention to numbers rather than taking the low road and forcing a deal with the face and voice of evil.
If Manfred’s front office deigned to even a do cursory look, they’d find Major League Baseball’s TV ratings both nationally and on the local level are up.
And guess who’s watching? The most significant bump in MLB’s demographics, according to Nielsen, is females aged 18-24 (up a whopping 41%!!!), going from 40,000 to 56,000 viewers. Viewership for males in that age range has increased by 26%, from 71,000 to 89,000 viewers.
And it’s understandable why. MLB might be capturing the imagination of younger viewers because its youngest players (Fernando Tatis Jr., 22, Vlad Guerrero Jr., 22, Ronald Acuña Jr., 23, and Shohei Ohtani, 27*), are the faces of the sport and probably will be for decades. *Note there’s not a single white face in that international crowd.
Baseball imo is also a great multitaskers' spectator sport. You don’t “miss” anything if you’re texting or talking or playing something else or sending a work email during a baseball game.
It’s the pace of the game—somnolent even by "sped up" standards, that juxtaposes with all the constant feed of whatever garbage we're exposed to. A nice, calming break, in other words.
It's also the complex but compelling story arcs (the gripping of the World Champion Dodgers, the re-emergence of the Giants and the A’s, the private equity-like dismantling of the Cubs, the fading Red Sox, and the rise of the Blue Jays and Yankees.) it’s all there—every corporate wishlist box checked: the youth movement, the diversity, the intrigue, and the myriad platforms to participate in casual fandom.
And that’s what Manfred doesn’t understand about his product. It’s compelling, and it’s driving a different demographic that SHOULD become his new target audience.
Instead of leaning in to what’s next, he’s going to what all his predecessors have done but with much higher stakes—he’s going to take his chips and bet them on the vocal minority, white men aging into oblivion and bringing us all down with them.
In the process he’ll slowly sacrifice tomorrow's audience for today's instant gratification. It's a strategy that's weak, unsustainable, and in service to dangerous traits of the worst among us—but ultimately predictable.
I’d expect nothing more.