DENVER, COLORADO – JULY 12: Shohei Ohtani #17 of the Los Angeles Angels (wearing #44 in honor of Hank Aaron) is congratulated by American League All-Star Vladimir Guerrero Jr. #27 of the Toronto Blue Jays during the 2021 T-Mobile Home Run Derby at Coors Field on July 12, 2021, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matt Dirksen/Colorado Rockies/Getty Images)

Rob Manfred and the MLB Should Thank Their Lucky Stars that the Players are Becoming Big Draws

After years of the MLB being unable to market its stars on its own, they’re finally (slowly) getting eyes on their product. And, unsurprisingly, it isn’t the league’s doing. In fact, almost every rule change they’ve implemented to increase viewership has worked against them. The 7-inning doubleheaders, the runner on 2nd in extras, and the dilemma with the ball have divided the fan base and confused the casual fan. What has worked, however, is getting more eyes on their swaggy young stars including Fernando Tatis Jr., Vladamir Guerrero Jr., and of course none other than Shohei Ohtani. Look no further than this:

Via: Major League Baseball

It appears as if this strategy has been working as of late. In fact, the 2021 Home Run Derby the other night was the most-watched since 2017. This was a great sign and confirmed how big of a draw Ohtani is, who competed. Unfortunately, this was followed up by the least-watched All-Star game ever with 6.76 Million viewers on Fox. These numbers confirm that baseball still has a long way to go to become as relevant as it once was. However, baseball is definitely moving in the right direction, as evidenced in the above clip. Moments like that by these talented young players are going to be the biggest draw the MLB will have going forward.

Young People Will Make or Break the MLB

Just a few months ago, a study showed that only 19% of Gen Z in the US called themself avid baseball fans. Considering baseball is thought of as “America’s Pastime”, this number was troubling and is likely due to the fact that the best players in the game haven’t been marketed nearly well enough on social media over the past 15 years. For example, the NFL and NBA’s best players have a significantly larger social media following than the MLB’s best. Over the past 5 years, Mike Trout has been considered the top baseball player. Yet there are still a lot of people out there who have never heard of that name. Trout only has a combined 4 million followers on Instagram and Twitter.

In comparison, LeBron James of the NBA is a cultural icon and has a combined 141 million followers on Twitter and Instagram. Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes of the NFL also heavily outplace not just Trout, but anyone else in the MLB. The players of former generations became pop culture icons because of how mainstream the game was among people their age. If baseball wants to increase their engagement, they need to continue going all-in on their young superstars.

The Players Will Continue to Sell on their Own

Regardless if the MLB can do a good enough job of getting eyes on their product, how these rising stars present themselves on the field and to the media will be what keeps people engaged. Their entertainment value will not cease to exist if they continue bringing passion and playing at exciting levels. This will ultimately allow them to become megastars and inspire the next generation unlike the current generation ever was.

Another big aspect of all of this is if Ohtani can continue being the most talented player to ever grace the field. The attention he’s drawing to the game from Japan and other surrounding countries is immense, and the impact he’s inevitably having on thousands of young kids cannot be measured. In time, the game will be different because of everything he does on the field. Stuff like this is exactly what baseball needs if they want to compete with the exponential growth of all other sports.

Time will tell whether or not the players can collectively bring baseball back to relevancy. Because one thing is for sure though, it won’t be Rob Manfred who does it.

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