3. Eliminate baseball's antitrust exemption
No other sport enjoys this archaic exemption, one that permits major league owners to act as a monopoly. For instance, a free market—not a cartel of owners—should determine where major league and affiliated minor league baseball is played. The New York Mets once flexed their territorial muscles by preventing a Long Island town 50 miles away from getting a minor league team.
The Washington/ northern Virginia region would be more receptive to a major league team than Montreal, but baseball doesn't want to test the territorial rights of Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos. The Oakland Athletics would surely be more profitable in San Jose, but the San Francisco Giants won't let them relocate there.
Baseball's own Blue Ribbon Panel Report of 2000 even recommended the concept of franchise relocation to "a very large market already occupied by one or more high-revenue clubs." Such relocation, the committee wrote, helps competitive balance because the relocated club generates more revenues and the existing club or clubs benefit from enhanced rivalries. In other words, put a team in New Jersey or Brooklyn. The New York metropolitan area supports three hockey teams. It can easily do likewise with baseball.
4. Give new meaning to the All-Star Game
Award the league that wins the game home field advantage in the World Series. We've heard the argument against that idea: For the most part, players who wouldn't be in the World Series would determine who got the extra home game. That would have some validity if the home advantage were currently determined by even a smidgen of merit. Now it's awarded simply on a rotating basis. What once helped make baseball's All-Star Game the best such exhibition in any sport was that the players cared about the outcome. As it stands, starters regularly leave the premises after one or two at bats.
5. Nix the nostalgia and try some modern marketing
Rick Burton, a sports-marketing professor at the University of Oregon, tells his students the story of the Narragansett Brewing Company, a Rhode Island beermaker that sold suds in New England with the same folksy slogan—"Hi, neighbor, have a Gansett!"—for decades before going out of business in the early 1980s. "They woke up one morning," says Burton, "and found that all the neighbors were dead."
Baseball may be headed for its own Gansett moment, the day when all its fans are dead—or, demographically speaking, might as well be. "Sports have to reinvent themselves to make them relevant to kids," Burton says. "Baseball continues to live in the past, both with its operating methods and its efforts at marketing nostalgia."
If baseball wants to get with the times and reinvigorate its image, it has to quit telling us how great the game was and give younger fans a reason to love it now. A dose of history is fine now and then, but a blurry image of Willie Mays making an over-the-shoulder catch is as thrilling to kids as Grandpa's stories about movie tickets that once cost a nickel.
Instead, stir interest by demystifying the sport. Break down some of the walls separating fans and players—and not only with choreographed autograph sessions. Think little gestures don't matter? Before one April game, Boston Red Sox players surprised fans by greeting them at the gates of Fenway Park. Fans were forbidden from asking for autographs (many did anyway), but the city still buzzed over the event.