U.S. soccer great Landon Donovan was on MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM with Mike Ferrin and Jim Bowden today. Donovan is a big, big baseball fan. A Dodgers guy to be precise. Mike and Jim talked to him about how soccer does well engaging with young fans and keeping them interested and what baseball can learn from it.
Donovan had a couple of good insights. First, he noted the difference inherent in baseball and soccer fans, and that’s that baseball fans are more casual, at least until the playoffs, where soccer has a smaller fan base but a more “crazy and passionate” group. You could probably say the same about hockey fans too. I think a lot of it has to do with the number of games and meaning of each game. If baseball had 40-80 games I imagine it’d pare things down to a smaller, harder core as well. It’s hard to maintain that super fan level of intensity for 162 games over six months.
Ferrin asked Donovan about how baseball can get younger and more passionate fans the way soccer has. Donovan said that it’s about capturing short attention spans and highlighting the short bursts of excitement. Oftentimes people say baseball is doomed in this regard in that it’s an inherently slow game. Interestingly, though, Donovan noted that soccer, like baseball, is often accused of being boring and slow — he cited 0-0 games — but noted that at the stadium there is always something going on, be it chanting or cheering, which is often an organized activity. You see this in Asian baseball as well. In only the smallest of pockets of baseball stadiums do you ever see such things, and it usually only lasts an inning or two. In San Francisco last week I noticed some visiting A’s fans at AT&T Park doing organized cheers. The Yankees and Mets have a bit of this, but they don’t exactly capture the whole stadium.
They all noted how smart phones, iPads and similar devices are a near constant fact of young people’s lives as well, and talked about how better integrating those things into the in-stadium experience would help.
Interesting perspective from a knowledgable outsider. Listen: