Even a quick and casual Google search of Major League Baseball's downward trend in audience share — particularly among crucial younger consumers — shows the cracks in the national pastime.
Attendance has dropped in recent years. The average age of fans is increasing. Star power is dimming. Pick your source. I happen to like this Denver Post piece from the start of this season, which has a good summary of the woes.
When you lose audience, particularly younger audience, you try to re-center your business. MLB has been slow to do that, but now it reportedly is trying to make up the gap quickly with a potentially risky move: partnering up with the controversial site Barstool Sports.
According to The New York Post, the two sides "have had significant negotiations about having national midweek games on the site's platforms." While it's far from a done deal — and in fact this sort of Post report could be a trial balloon to gauge reactions — it is an interesting possibility.
On the one hand, Barstool would deliver MLB an undeniably younger audience while also setting the stage for an expansion of in-game gambling that MLB (and a lot of other top leagues) crave as more states approve sports wagering. That's the next big revenue stream in sports, and it's massive.
On the other hand, we've seen how Barstool ventures and major mainstream entities have mixed in the past — and it's, um, not great. The Post story references this lightly and late in the story, noting that "doing business with Barstool could come with controversy for MLB, as Barstool has been accused of being misogynistic" while noting that a lot of MLB players like Barstool.
Accused? I mean, it's sort of central to the Barstool premise. (Full disclosure: I participated a few years ago in a Barstool documentary about the Love Boat cruise, and while I think it was well done I wish I hadn't done it now). Not all of Barstool caters to this mindset, but "a few bad apples" is a dangerous place to exist.
Rethinking what that means — and the well-deserved backlash that comes with partnering with Barstool — was enough for ESPN to cancel a partnership show, Barstool Van Talk, after just one episode.
If MLB thinks it can get just the parts of Barstool it wants and not the ones it doesn't want, this line from that linked Daily Beast piece is something to consider: "Any attempt to rein in (founder Dave) Portnoy or the harassment would transform Barstool into something that is not Barstool."
So suffice to say, I'll be interested to see how this all plays out.