How Can Baseball Boost Viewership? Give Video Games a Shot


It's 9 a.m. on a Sunday, and I'm still in my pajamas, toggling through a list of opponents to choose who will play my New York Giants this time. As I jam joysticks and string together a combination of buttons, I control Eli Manning and company to a big win over rival Philadelphia. As soon as the game brings me back to the home screen, I save, shut down, and throw on a jersey. I'll watch the real thing happen a few hours later.

This was my Sunday tradition for years. Before watching the Giants go through another NFL week, I'd simulate the game with Madden, the popular football video game franchise that's moved millions of units since its kickoff in 1988. Last year, Madden '13 sold 2.32 million copies in the U.S. alone. The NFL's viewership spiked higher than ever.

It's no secret that kids like video games. It's also no secret that kids like sports. Putting the two together is remarkably symbiotic, with video game consoles raking in profits while professional sports leagues gain traction with younger demographics. Not everybody can put on pads and a helmet to play football, but just about everybody can mash buttons and watch a screen with Madden. Sports are more palatable when you can access their superstars, and what better way to access them than with control over the plays they make, the celebrations that ensue and even the teams they get traded to in the fantasy realm of video games?

Madden isn't the only popular title that helps viewership. The NBA has seen an encouraging resurgence in viewers, and part of that can be credited to the ascent of the NBA 2K series, a basketball game developed by 2K Sports that saw its latest installment push over 1.5 million U.S. units. Domestic ratings for FIFA's Confederations Cup set records, despite Team USA's absence from the tournament, correlating to FIFA Soccer '13's 6.71 million copies sold and 940 thousand units in the U.S.

Baseball, however, has struggled to retain fan support in recent years. It's top video game franchise, MLB 2K? Only 230,000 copies sold. Perhaps MLB would benefit not from new marketing campaigns, a stringent attempt to suspend steroid users or even a "fan cave." Maybe the sport's saving grace lies with a flatscreen TV and a set of controllers.

Today's technology is seldom seen in baseball, which often doesn't boast the cheerleaders, star power and massive jumbotrons that football and basketball have. Call it archaic or traditional, but video games and MLB don't seem to go together, which is why baseball's video game title would have to deviate from some of the details. Kids with attention spans ravaged by XBox and Playstation wouldn't want to sit through pitching changes, walks or mound visits. While something like MLB Slugfest may be out of the question, a more arcade, cartoonish game would at least make the sport more appealing to video game users.

Ultimately, baseball desperately needs a video game title that will sell the way Madden and NBA 2K do. We don't know what that should look like quite yet, but then again, what does actual baseball look like right now?