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Are sports leagues listening to fans too much?

Sep 4, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT


Jorge Arangure of Vice Sports has a thought-provoking piece up today. It’s about how, in many ways, sports leagues are abdicating their rule-making authority to the fans and observers who complain the loudest:

Never before has the average sports fan had so much power. An online mandate can force change. And the leagues are willing to listen, not because it will necessarily improve the game, but because ignoring the loudest sector of the public imperils the bottom line—the money, it’s about the money. The competition for entertainment has become so fierce that the leagues will cater to their audiences’ desires, no matter the consequences.

Arangure argues that this has played out in baseball, where calls from fans and the media — mostly online, which serves to amplify the complaints of a relatively small number of people — to speed up the game and institute instant replay have served to set the league’s agenda. In football, outcry over the NFL’s disparate punishments for various offenses by players has clearly made the the league change its policies as well. Arangure worries that “Leagues are creating a dangerous precedent in allowing the public to dictate rules and policy.”

I agree that leagues acting in reactionary ways, as the NFL seems to have done regarding player discipline, is a bad move. The voice of the public had a lot of good points about how the NFL went too soft on Ray Rice and too hard on Josh Gordon, but Roger Goodell’s unilateral changing of policies regarding domestic violence was clearly a P.R. move. One which, because he didn’t work with the NFLPA, may lead to some unintended consequences and/or some harder negotiations later, no matter how well-intentioned the changes were. You would hope that some sort of vision, as opposed to the mere avoidance of bad press motivates a league’s decision making.

But I don’t think baseball has done this. At least not to any extreme degree. Yes, it instituted instant replay after fan complaints about blown calls started to get louder, but it’s not like that complaint was some random and superfluous one. The technology existed to put a system in place and getting the calls right is an absolutely good thing. If anything, they should’ve done it sooner and, if anything, they should have listened to the fans even more closely than they did. No one, after all, was clamoring for a manager-challenge system. That’s what we got, though. And not because baseball fell over itself to cater to fans. It took them YEARS to get there.

Same goes for the issue which leads off Arangure’s article: the growing chorus of voices asking baseball to speed up the pace of play. It’s been placed on the agenda in large part because it has become an increasingly common complaint among the loud hordes he identifies. But are they wrong? I’m not sure it matters where the suggestions come from as long as they are good suggestions. If anything, Major League Baseball spent far too long ignoring fans’ wishes. I’m not going to complain now that they seem to be listening to them more. Especially if fan sentiment works to curb Major League Baseball’s strange tendency to institute strange and gimmicky solutions when left to its own devices.

Arangure closes with this:

The bigger argument now is whether sports leagues have become part of an on-demand lifestyle where we can pick and choose what we like and then demand changes to the things we don’t like. There seems to be little consideration paid to whether something is good for the given sport past the moment’s rage fueling the cries.

Are leagues yielding to rage-fueled cries? Perhaps. But after a century or so of sports’ leagues acting solely in their own self-interest, I’m not gonna get too worked up about them finally listening to their customers for a little while.

  1. jkcalhoun - Sep 4, 2014 at 12:48 PM

    OK, so let’s take a moment to “pay consideration” to whether the trend toward longer games and an ever more laggardly pace is good for the game of baseball.


    No, no it’s not. Hope I got there slow enough for Arangure.

  2. wallio - Sep 4, 2014 at 12:55 PM

    Ah, the tradition continues. Its the day the NFL starts and Craig posts a “Football-bad, Baseball good!” column.

    Oh well, at least you didn’t title this one “Baseball Superiority Day”

    • [citation needed] fka COPO - Sep 4, 2014 at 1:14 PM

      Reading isn’t your strong suit, is it?

      • wallio - Sep 4, 2014 at 1:33 PM

        That’s exactly what this is. Its doubly funny because Craig was complaining about baseball (thinking about) doing this very thing in regards to a pitch clock. So Baseball was listening too much then, but not now on today of all days? Right.

        Craig hates football, I get it, but despite what he thinks you CAN like both. And by continuingly writing stuff like this every year, its just juvenile.

      • historiophiliac - Sep 4, 2014 at 1:41 PM

        What wallio means is that baseball won since football already knew not to try any scheduling conflicts this year, so no need to rub it in.

      • [citation needed] fka COPO - Sep 4, 2014 at 2:04 PM

        That’s exactly what this is.

        So let me get this straight, your “logic” of reading this article is what? That Craig is commenting on a post about the NFL and MLB, and that by saying MLB doesn’t adhere to the whims of the public as much as the NFL, that Craig is saying MLB > NFL?

    • DJ MC - Sep 4, 2014 at 1:21 PM

      He didn’t want to bring over a flood of PFTers who have become too addled from too many concussions to be able to process the truth.

      • asimonetti88 - Sep 4, 2014 at 2:58 PM

        Yes, because concussions aren’t an issue in baseball at all. (Ryan Freel)

      • DJ MC - Sep 4, 2014 at 3:06 PM

        Congrats on naming one. I’ll name one, too: Brian Roberts. And another: Justin Morneau.

        But the fact that we can name those guys right away shows how specific these situations are. It isn’t a fact of life that these guys are destroying their brains day after day like it is in football.

      • asimonetti88 - Sep 4, 2014 at 9:56 PM

        That’s funny, because I thought I read an article on this very site last year about the rising incidence of concussions in baseball.

        Oh wait, I did.

      • DJ MC - Sep 4, 2014 at 10:26 PM

        Great. Baseball has incidents of concussions rising.

        The NFL is being sued by hundreds of former players over concussion issues and the damage simply day-to-day football play does to their brains and the complete lack of any action by the league for decades.

        So yeah. You can cling tight to your “rising incidence”. I’ll go with the league that doesn’t have many guys specifically shooting themselves in the chest to kill themselves so that their brains can be studied.

  3. joestemme - Sep 4, 2014 at 12:59 PM

    Of course, the real answer to this headline is “it depends.”

    Certainly, leagues can’t change their sport every year depending on the current attitude of its fans. But, long-term fan complaints shouldn’t be ignored either.

    The ‘speed up’ baseball argument isn’t some ripped from the headlines fad. And, as has been noted numerous times on Hardballtalk, there ARE rules in place that could help immediately if they were to be a “new emphasis” (in NFL parlance).

  4. Marty McKee - Sep 4, 2014 at 1:29 PM

    When is the last time MLB did *anything* the fans want?

    Fans want:

    * Faster paced games
    * No DH
    * Pete Rose reinstated
    * Doubleheaders
    * No manager challenges
    * The All-Star Game to NOT decide home-field advantage for the World Series
    * Better umpiring (or at least accountable umpires)
    * FOX not broadcasting postseason games
    * Chris Berman not on the Home Run Derby
    * Abolition of senseless blackout rules

    I don’t recall Selig doing anything to benefit the fans *unless* it also (or primarily) benefited the owners. Which one could argue makes sense–after all, he technically works for the owners, not the fans–but I believe baseball, in part because of its anti-trust exemption, shouldn’t function like a regular business.

    • umrguy42 - Sep 4, 2014 at 1:37 PM

      You forgot:

      * DH in both leagues (we’ve had plenty of discussion both ways just on here, so…)
      * Day WS games

      • bfunk1978 - Sep 4, 2014 at 2:22 PM

        Yes, paradoxically “fans” both want no DH and want a DH in both leagues.

        Whatever baseball does I hope they make it uniform. I’m all for a DH in the NL, but whatever. Having it both ways with permanent everyday interleague play sucks.

      • davidpom50 - Sep 4, 2014 at 5:05 PM

        I despise the DH and would love to see it gone from the AL. However, I know that ain’t ever gonna happen, and as much as I hate the idea, I hate even more that the two leagues play under fundamentally different rules.

      • simon94022 - Sep 4, 2014 at 5:24 PM

        National League fans seem to be much more passionately opposed to the DH than American League fans are to adopting it.

        There are more National League fans than American League fans, at least judged by consistent attendance patterns over the years.

        Therefore, I believe it fair to say that given the choice between adopting the DH in both leagues or getting rid of it in both leagues, “The Fans” would abolish the DH altogether.

      • tmc602014 - Sep 5, 2014 at 6:47 PM

        While no fan of the DH it has become the main difference between the leagues. While it opened the door to the specialist era we now inhabit – we used to have ten man pitching staffs with starters, long relievers, and short relievers – I would like the DH to stay as is. Meaning, let the AL have it and not the NL. And if you want to beat me up for it, blame Edgar Martinez.

    • skerney - Sep 4, 2014 at 1:40 PM

      This is a list of mostly personal grievances.

      • historiophiliac - Sep 4, 2014 at 1:42 PM

        Thank Dog sports leagues aren’t listening to Marty too much.

      • Paper Lions - Sep 4, 2014 at 3:11 PM

        Well, airing of the grievances is a Festivus tradition….”I’ve got a lot of problems with you people!”

      • raysfan1 - Sep 4, 2014 at 6:03 PM

        Never to soon to obtain your own Festivus pole.

    • sophiethegreatdane - Sep 4, 2014 at 1:44 PM

      Fans want “no DH”? That’s news to many fans. Especially me, as I find watching pitchers flail at sliders in the dirt to be terribly tedious.

      Viva la .098 batting averages!

      • joestemme - Sep 4, 2014 at 1:52 PM

        You have a .098 hitting pitcher on your staff? Damn, you are so lucky to have such a slugger!

    • skids003 - Sep 4, 2014 at 1:48 PM

      No to Pete Rose!!

    • drs76109 - Sep 4, 2014 at 1:50 PM

      Agree wholeheartedly on no DH, All-Star Game is only that with no impact on playoffs, eliminate stupid blackout rule, getting rid of Fox, more Doubleheaders, more day games.

    • moogro - Sep 4, 2014 at 8:21 PM

      I’m down with all that, Marty. The DH thing and Pete Rose may be a problem for some folks. There’s consensus on the rest.

  5. philliesblow - Sep 4, 2014 at 1:33 PM

    The NFL & MLB must have Ray Davies as a paid consultant.

  6. temporarilyexiled - Sep 4, 2014 at 1:44 PM

    Nice clickbait. Glad to see you’re not in this camp. Because we’re always complaining how baseball is listening to everyone so well and so often that we don’t even recognize the game…wait…

  7. skerney - Sep 4, 2014 at 1:50 PM

    Hi everyone. Baseball can sometimes be a slow game. Sometimes it can be a low scoring one too. If you don’t like the pace or cannot be entertained by the lack of what you describe as “action” then you might want to reevaluate whether you like it in the first place. If you want a game that suits your schedule then perhaps don’t profess to like a game without a clock, it’s counter intuitive. Also if you don’t like low scoring games please be aware that strikeouts percentages have been rising every decade for the past 100 years and will continue to do so. The games are going to get longer and the offense is going to decline. Don’t like it? Don’t watch. It’ll be fine without you.

    • jfreebs - Sep 4, 2014 at 4:01 PM

      Average length of a game in 1963 when baseball was America’s pastime – 2.25 hours
      Average length of a game now when baseball is probably #4 sport among America’s young – 3.1 hours

      No fan asked for the games to get longer. The rules are still 9 innings with no clock. The day still has 24 hours – and the baseball game still has about 30 minutes max of actual ‘action’. Baseball is not ‘better’ now. Fans now just have to spend an extra hour per game watching managers preen while constantly changing pitchers; watch batters preen and waste time adjusting their helmets/gloves/grip/balls before getting back in the batters box, and watch pitchers preen and waste time meditating and rubbing their balls in between pitches.

      • skerney - Sep 4, 2014 at 4:58 PM

        You’re perfectly entitled to be bored during the game. But to classify what happens between pitches as non action shows how casual fans miss what goes on during a game. Defenses adjust, catchers set up, one pitch sets up another. There are dozens of pieces of action that go on between pitches that aren’t ball rubbing and “preening.” So if this holds no interest to you that’s fine, it’s just I find what a third baseman does in a two strike count to a lefty with a runner on first and less than two outs to be engaging.
        I also am suspect of the fans who as part of their argument cite baseball’s popularity amongst american kids as a reason for it’s “problems.” There are plenty of kids from the DR, Venezuela, and elsewhere to fill rosters in lieu of american kids who want to play other sports. If baseball has problems it’s not showing at the turnstile or enrollment in little league.
        And if someone doesn’t understand the regional sport network broadcast structure of MLB and cites poor FOX game of the week numbers we can’t have a serious discussion.

      • davidpom50 - Sep 4, 2014 at 5:08 PM

        Just because there are actual important things going on between pitches doesn’t mean that there’s not also quite a bit of preening and ball-rubbing. The need to start enforcing the pitch clock rule and the rule about staying in the batter’s box. These are existing, on-the-books rules.

  8. sdelmonte - Sep 4, 2014 at 1:55 PM

    I’m surprised at your reaction to the NFL’s new domestic abuse policy. The league screwed up big time with Ray Rice. Yes, there was clamor from the fans. There was also clamor from the media. There was outcry from pretty much everyone but the players. You could look at the new policy as a knee jerk reaction, or as an overdue correction for a sport plagued by domestic violence issues and arrest.

    And while I think in an ideal world Goddell would have worked with the union to create this new policy, I have concluded that he made the right call, as unfortunately I feel the union – which I generally support – would have dragged its feet and possibly treated the issue without due gravity. Never mind that the way the NFL is set up, the commissioner has far too much power across the board, so it’s not like he needed to talk to the union.

    I applaud Goddell’s stance about domestic violence. A stance, I will note, that MLB hasn’t taken yet. If it came about because the general public pushed for it, I am fine with that.

    • [citation needed] fka COPO - Sep 4, 2014 at 2:02 PM

      as unfortunately I feel the union – which I generally support – would have dragged its feet and possibly treated the issue without due gravity.

      I agree with most of your points except this one. The Union would treat it as a union should. If the NFL wants to tighten some rules, and they need the NFLPA to agree, what is the NFL willing to give up as a compromise? The league most likely wouldn’t have given anything up, so the NFLPA shouldn’t cower to the commissioner’s demands. Never mind that we already have a case of a player who beat his (supposedly) pregnant girlfriend, and the commish has been silent so far…

      • sdelmonte - Sep 4, 2014 at 2:10 PM

        Yes, I thought about this as well. That’s why I don’t mind the NFLPA dragging its feet on hGH testing (well, that and I don’t think hGH really does anything anyway). But the fact that not one player said anything about the Ray Rice case bothers me. A lot. A union has an obligation to look out for all its members – yers, MLBPA, I am looking at your shoddy handling of A-Rod – but are there things where fighting for your people is ultimately fighting the wrong battle?

        And as for the pending case, I think Goddell isn’t going to do anything until the court case is resolved one way or the other. Due process matters.

      • [citation needed] fka COPO - Sep 4, 2014 at 4:58 PM

        But the fact that not one player said anything about the Ray Rice case bothers me. A lot.

        I agree, but players speaking out != the Player’s Association speaking out. Unfortunately as sad as it is, there are probably plenty of guys out there that think the way Steven A Smith thought (that women can provoke an attack). Players themselves are also very hesitant to speak out on societal issues.

        Due process matters.

        It doesn’t matter at all outside the CBA. The Commissioner has the authority to suspend people on the basis of conduct detrimental to the league. It’s one of the major issues the NFLPA has with the commission, in that these punishments fall outside the CBA and they are appealed back to the Commissioner….

    • campcouch - Sep 5, 2014 at 12:01 AM

      Perhaps an adjustment to the legal punishments or a review of the judges who dole out such lenient sentences should be reviewed. A sports league can do something insignificant like suspend a millionaire for a few games or a “lifelong ban” that can be lifted after one year. The court of law deemed counseling was appropriate for Ray Rice after he AND his wife were arrested, yet there was no outcry from the people about what our very own legal system did. But everyone is aghast that his employer didn’t have him shot on the spot. I’d be more concerned about something that affects every person, not the arbitrary whims of a sports commissioner.

  9. patpatriot7 - Sep 4, 2014 at 3:49 PM

    Listening to Red Sox Nation has certainly carried more weight in decision-making by the current Red Sox ownership!

  10. mooberry123 - Sep 4, 2014 at 4:57 PM

    “Roger Goodell’s unilateral changing of policies regarding domestic violence was clearly a P.R. move. One which, because he didn’t work with the NFLPA, may lead to some unintended consequences and/or some harder negotiations later, no matter how well-intentioned the changes were.”

    And…..WHO CARES if it was a P.R. move??? I’m sure the NFL could care less that they didn’t work with the NFLPA. They admitted their mistake about the suspension and have now fixed it. That’s all that matters. For someone who supports the rights of women this is one of the more foolish things you’ve ever written. You don’t need to lose your mind just because the NFL season is starting today.

    • [citation needed] fka COPO - Sep 4, 2014 at 5:39 PM

      For someone who supports the rights of women this is one of the more foolish things you’ve ever written.

      You can fully support the rights of women and still believe what the NFL did was wrong.

    • raysfan1 - Sep 4, 2014 at 7:03 PM

      He’s not saying what Goodell did was wrong either. He’s saying not involving the NFLPA could lead to problems in dealing with them in the future.

  11. raysfan1 - Sep 4, 2014 at 6:07 PM

  12. sfm073 - Sep 4, 2014 at 11:07 PM

    Lower your prices…..I’ll be waiting.

  13. hockeyflow33 - Sep 5, 2014 at 12:39 AM

    Going to games, across all leagues, has certainly been ruined for fans of the game itself. The owners cater to casual fans too much and have lost many, many actual fans of baseball, hockey, etc. It should be enough to go to the park and just enjoy the game but instead we’re inundated with videos, tshirt cannons, mascots, noise meters, etc. Just let me watch the game.

    In terms of tv, how often are we missing a pitch because of a live-read, late commercial or announcers being morons in the booth? Stop zooming in on players faces and let me watch the game.

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