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Love him or hate him, one thing that’s certain is that under Bud Selig’s tenure, MLB’s popularity has grown. Whether one points to what I call “Selig’s Reclamation Project”—the 22 new or renovated stadiums under Selig’s tenure, labor peace, revenue-sharing, et al—baseball’s attendance has skyrocketed.

Still, like everything, baseball could use some improvements. After all, nothing is perfect, and baseball is no exception. Some things are a byproduct of a landscape different than the NFL and NBA. Some are of its own doing. Everyone probably has their own list of what they could do to market MLB better, and we’d like to hear it in the comments. Here are five things that MLB could do to grow its popularity further.

1. Address the Television Blackout Policy
In a $7 billion-plus industry, it’s amazing that MLB continues to employ a television blackout policy with one of their core products, actually limiting access to a buying customer base. Whether it’s MLB Extra Innings or MLB.TV Premium, those that choose to purchase the out-of-market broadcast packages find themselves blacked out of programming each week, either via national exclusivity agreements with FOX and ESPN or at the local/regional level. It’s maddening. It’s a case of accepting large sums of money from network partners knowing full well that it has a negative effect on baseball’s most ardent fans. It’s been far too long that the blackout policies have been in place, and it’s time MLB quits looking the other way and does something about it. It is, in baseball’s own words, the number one customer complaint that they hear. Before many more mega media rights deals get inked, try to address the issue. It would create an incredible amount of goodwill with your most loyal fans, who have been putting up with the arcane policies for years and, in the process, create more hardcore fans. When will the lip service stop and real action happen? The time should be now.

2. Partner with the NCAA to Promote College Baseball on Television
A big advantage that the NFL and NBA have over MLB in terms of popularity is the visibility that basketball and football are afforded on television at the college level. Familiarity with college players and programs via network broadcasts and the continued growth of conference-created networks builds the fan base at the pro level when players advance. Major League Baseball should consider a partnership with the NCAA or its conferences that would allow broader visibility of college baseball. Interest in the College World Series has increased, but that’s just a limited window of time. Baseball has the power to do more to grow interest early on in the careers of the sport’s future stars.

3. If it’s the Big Leagues, Why Is World Series Entertainment Small-Fry?
It never ceases to amaze me that during the Super Bowl, the NFL can get a stage the size of Rhode Island on the field for half-time entertainment, yet MLB has had trouble getting two or three musicians with acoustic guitars out on time for pre-game festivities (for those wondering about the reference, John Mellencamp created dead air when he was set to perform “Our Country” before Game Two of the 2006 World Series). If MLB’s entertainment wing can get a flatbed for bands out in centerfield as part of each All-Star Game, why can’t they do the same for the World Series? At a point where baseball is making inroads with a younger demographic via Fan Cave, the league needs to do the same with its premiere event. Don’t overshadow the game itself; augment it. In other words, get with the times. Traditionalists will scoff at this, but entertainment associated with sports has changed over time. Reaching out to a key demographic that baseball has been losing (18-25 year-olds) needs to happen. Balancing “tradition” with “entertainment” can be done.

4. Cross Promotion
This one isn’t easy, but it can be done: cross-promote with leagues or clubs. At the club level, this should be a no-brainer for those that have ownership stakes across different sports properties. Be it Jerry Reinsdorf (Bulls, White Sox), Mike Illitch (Tigers, Red Wings), the Henry group (Red Sox, Liverpool FC, RoushFenway Racing), or Lew Wolff (Athletics, Earthquakes), the ability to cross promote your brand should come with the territory (it should be noted that Fenway Sports Group has done this already with a Red Sox-branded NASCAR entry and via Liverpool playing in the States, with Fenway Park one of the stops).  From MLB’s perspective, this ability to bring brand recognition to all 30 clubs through other sports leagues should be something to strive for. If MLB wants to go global, thinking about how they could partner with the English Premiere League is one idea.

5. Increase the Pace of the Game
Yes, each year we hear about how baseball is working to speed up the pace of the game. Yes, each year, enforcement by the umpires on aspects that should help are rarely enforced. The fact is, certain areas should be addressed to make games more timely. Before a chorus of boos rain down, I completely get the psychological aspect of a pitcher (ahem, Josh Beckett) that has a slow cadence on the mound, or players stepping out of the box on occasion; it breaks a player or pitcher’s rhythm. Cool. Let’s work on compromising there.

Here’s one thing that drives the length of the game up and can be controlled: limit the number of pitcher/catcher conferences at the mound. If you need more than one conference an inning or a host of them throughout a game, there needs to be better scouting or pitchers and catchers need to communicate better outside of play on how to call pitches. How many times have we seen a conference on the mound simply because the pitcher and catcher are mixed up on what is being signaled for a pitch? If NFL players can digest massive playbooks, you’d think getting a handful of pitch signals could be done standing on your head.

Thank you for reading

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I don't think they need to do anything about the pace of the game. Once Rafael Betancourt retires, the average length of game will drop by a good 10 minutes.
Some food for thought via Eric Fisher of the SportsBusiness Journal/Daily:

More big numbers for MLBAM. Current version of At Bat mobile app now at 5M downloads. All of last year did 3.9M, all of '10 was 2.1M.... MLBAM also has served 24 pct more live mobile video streams than all of last year, with more than a third of this season still to go.
Fisher's info came via press release, which just landed in my in-box. Remember, this year the pricing model changed, which has greatly impacted downloads. If live streams are up, revenues should not be negative impacted as MLB.TV subs will have increased, as well. Now about those nasty blackouts... Below is the press release:

MLB Advanced Media, L.P. (MLBAM), the interactive media and Internet company of Major League Baseball, today announced that its At Bat 12 application surpassed the five million download mark this past Saturday, achieving the milestone for the first time in a single season and just five months after its launch on February 29. In 2011, At Bat saw 3.9 million total downloads.
Additionally, baseball fans have watched more than 21 million live video streams via At Bat 12 on supported iPhone, iPad and Android phones and tablets. The total live video consumption also represents a new single season record for At Bat, roughly 20% greater than last year’s season-ending total and spurred in part by a daily average 120% greater than 2011.
MLB.TV Premium subscribers get At Bat 12 for free on supported iOS and Android devices. Fans also can subscribe to At Bat 12 for the one-time seasonal fee of $9.99 on all available platforms (iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone 7) or iPhone and iPad users have the option of a $2.99 per month fee with a monthly recurring billing option.
I bought At-Bat 12 a few days ago. (I have Extra Innings on DirecTV). At Bat is awesome. I would highly recommend.
What about times games start in the postseason? 8:30 EST is crazy if attracting young fans is part of your long term plan.
I understand where you're coming from, but at this point, I think this argument is without support.

In the late 80s/90s, when only a few years prior MLB broadcast World Series games during the day, I understood this argument more. It was a change, and who knew what it would do? Though, of course, the argument ignored more recent history: until 1969, the only playoffs were the World Series and, until 1971, all of those games were held during the day, when kids were at school and adults were at work. Baseball doesn't seem to have lost any young fans from those times.

But I remember watching all of the playoffs and the World Series in 1992, and I'm pretty sure none of those started before 8PM EST. There also seems to be plenty of 20-something and 30-something baseball fans around right now. Clearly the late start times didn't affect them, so are we even sure this is an issue?

I've had a hard time finding the full TV schedule for last year's playoffs, but plenty of games started in the afternoon/early evening EST, thanks to MLB trying to avoid broadcasting two games at the same time.
I'm 29 and my only issue (die-hard Cards fan) with the most recent World Series was that the Boston transit system shut down before I was finished watching game 6 and had to take a cab. But even then my gripe's with the MBTA, not MLB.
Almost nobody I know watches the World Series games to the end. And what you said about the young fans is crucial. Most of us probably became fans for life as kids.

A common response is that starting earlier means people on the west coast miss the start of the game. But that's better than people on the east coast missing the *end* of the game.

Here's a compromise: move the World Series back to Sat/Sun, Tue/Wed/Th, Sat/Sun, and start the 4 weekend games at about 530pm like the NBA used to do. That resolves the issue of west coasters being at work.

Also, instead of starting at 825, have the pre-game end at 8 and the games start promptly at 8pm like the NFL use to do.
How about actually calling a strike a strike per the rule book?
How about enforcing the rule of 20 seconds between pitches? That's probably the most agonizing, action-stopping thing that happens during games.
It's a small thing, but how about no more mid-AB conversations between the catcher and the pitcher? This is happening more and more during already long AB's. The catcher calls time out and goes out to the mound to have a discussion, presumably about what pitch to throw, etc. You have signs, so use them!

But yeah, just in general, get into the box and hit, get onto the mound and pitch.
If a batter steps out of the batter box, he can be tagged out. Would be consistent with the other bases. Fewer human rain delays.
To me, nothing is more annoying than the dumbing down of broadcasts of post-season games for new, less knowledgeable fans. However, I realize that it has to be done for those fans' enjoyment (and that I was a new, less knowledgeable once, too), so why not have multiple broadcasts or at least multiple audio feeds for playoff games? Casual fans who need more explanation can listen to one feed, and fans who don't need Tim McCarver's explanation of a hit-and-run can listen to another. If there's an SAP button on my remote that broadcasts shows in another language, I can't see why having a choice in announcers is untenable.
Time of game is directly correlated with the expansion of the time allotted for commercial breaks. In my dad's day, it was 30 seconds. Now, it is 2 minutes. In the pst-season, sometimes more.
I have an idea that I think would both speed up the game and increase the strategic element - a reliever must face two batters when he enters the game (unless he is on the mound when the third out is made). I'm tired of seeing pitchers brought in to face 1 batter. And two warm up pitches should suffice.

And yes, start games earlier, make hitters stay in the batting box unless they are looking for a sign and limit catcher visits during an at bat to 1 per inning. No limit on catcher-pitcher chats after a hitter has finished his at bat.

Give the third base umpire a stopwatch and like golf, put a pitcher on the clock once he's been warned about slow play.
Is part of the appeal of college football and basketball not that those players could well be playing for an NFL or NBA team the following year, whereas college baseball players tend to take longer to reach the big leagues?
7PM start time for the AS Game, playoffs and WS.
If you step out of the box to readjust your velcro straps (especially after not even swinging at the previous pitch), it's a strike called against the batter.
Greenengineer, is that 7pm on the west coast? Fine. If you mean 4pm in the west, no thanks.