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Column: Is Major League Baseball really dying? Survey says no

Young Dodgers fans try to get autographs before a spring-training game.
Young Dodgers fans try to get autographs before a spring-training game between the Dodgers and the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday.
(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)
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You might have heard this before: Baseball is dying.

It’s not. The Angels’ Shohei Ohtani might be the world’s most intriguing athlete. Baseball games offer top-rated prime-time programming in just about every city in the major leagues. The intensity of this month’s World Baseball Classic, and the introduction of new rules designed to showcase athleticism and pick up the pace, should stir even more interest. And a dying industry does not generate record revenues, as Major League Baseball did last year.

Over the last few weeks, you might have heard “baseball is dying” cries from an unlikely source: the owners of several major league teams, who have called MLB “an industry in crisis” in which “the vast majority of players, agents and clubs dislike baseball’s economic system.” One owner suggested his team had not spent on free agents because his up-and-coming team had “overperformed” last summer.

Hey, fans, get your tickets now!

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Seriously, hire Curtis Granderson to do all the talking, and to help come up with the big ideas. Granderson told me five years ago how baseball was failing to develop fans across the country in part because the league had not provided Mike Trout “an opportunity to play where fans can see him.” This year, Trout and Ohtani and all the Angels will play every team.

All the best players now will perform in your city once every two years, not once every six years. And you will actually see them play — none of this “load management” nonsense in which NBA teams charge hundreds of dollars and then Anthony Davis or Kawhi Leonard or (insert star here) takes a rest day in his team’s only appearance in your city that season.

If the killjoy owners can stay out of the way, baseball could be in position to prosper, based on the results of an Ipsos poll released Thursday. After years of talk about how baseball is dying, and how the NBA has leaped beyond MLB in popularity, and how young people favor so many other sports, and how soccer is the next big thing, the poll results tell a different story.

In January — that is, during the NFL, NBA and NHL seasons but in a dead time for MLB — Ipsos polled 1,035 American adults and asked whether they were fans of 13 sports. You could be a fan of as few or as many sports as you liked.

The NFL led, of course, with 44% of respondents saying they were fans of the NFL. In second place: baseball, with 31%, followed by college football at 29%, the NBA at 24%, and college basketball at 23%.

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Baseball dropped in popularity from the 55-and-over age group (38%) to the 18-34 age group (23%). So did the NFL (49% to 35%).

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In the 18-34 age group, baseball still ranks second, tied with the NBA at 23%, followed closely by college football at 22% and college basketball at 20%. Soccer came next, at 16%, although Ipsos vice president Mallory Newall said the differences among all those sports were not statistically significant given the margin of error.

In the 35-54 age group, the NFL led with 46%, followed by baseball at 31%.

In the overall rankings, hockey finished fifth at 18% and soccer sixth at 17%. Soccer did not get more than 20% in any of the three demographic breakdowns.

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