Sandy Hingston wrote an article appearing in the March 2014 Philadelphia Magazine about Milennials’ lack of interest in history, specifically as it relates to baseball (read abridged version here). Later in the article, she quotes Matthew Futterman, who posited in the Wall Street Journal that two key changes to baseball’s rules will produce a shorter, faster-paced game that will attract more youngsters. This notion didn’t sit well with Sandy Hingston.
But it did sit well with me. Very well, in fact. I’m a Boomer like Hingston, not a Millenial, but I find myself increasingly frustrated by things that, put simply, take too long. Baseball is one of them. In fact, my TV viewing of the Phillies (go Phils!) decreased as my TV viewing of another professional sport was on the rise: golf.
Anybody who watches golf on TV, or attends an event live, will attest that players can take a very long time in between shots, which is essentially the same criticism lobbed at pitchers who take too long between throws. Slow-play in golf is a hot topic, and the golf powers-that-be are quite willing to put players “on the clock” for taking their good sweet time. So to be fair, both sports are grappling with this issue.
A first or second round of professional golf will take the better part of a day to televise. A 9-inning baseball game, in contrast, lasts around 3 hours. Given the disparity between how long each event takes, one would think that I, as someone interested in fast action, would prefer watching baseball. But that’s just not the case.
This got me thinking about an issue that we grapple with in market research: respondent tedium. Long attribute batteries of low personal relevance can tax a respondent’s patience. Even being compensated doesn’t always overcome the glaze that forms over their eyes when faced with mundane, repetitive tasks. That’s why we do our best to keep respondents engaged by having them make choices (our Bracket technique is a good example of this). In bracket, the choices become more relevant as the task progresses – not unlike how play at the end of a close game or match becomes more exciting to the viewer.
In considering golf vs. baseball, the key difference is that up until the last few groups hit the 18th tee, golf has action going on all the time. If somebody’s playing slow on 17 the producer can cut away to what’s happening over at 15. And we golf viewers don’t mind if we miss the shot at 17 go off live – the replay works just fine (as long as we don’t hear the crowd reaction first). Baseball has no action at all when the ball’s not in play, unless you count numerous throws to first to keep the runner close, which does nothing to move the game along.
A friend of mine has twin 10-year old boys who were reluctant to sign-up for baseball this year. She said that they get bored during practices (doesn’t everyone?) and during the games. During the games! If the kids are bored while they’re playing, that really says something.
Golf has used technology to make watching it more exciting—multiple cameras, crane shots, slo-mo replay; market research has used technology to make survey taking more compelling also. While baseball can make technical advancements, so far it has done nothing to improve the pace.
Could baseball, America’s past-time, be passed by? Should baseball make critical changes to keep the action moving and appeal to younger sports fans? We’re asking our intrepid consumer research panelists exactly that question. Watch for Part 2 for their answer.