Make No Mistake, This Year’s REAL March Madness Is the World Baseball Classic

If you have been watching the World Baseball Classic, which wraps up this Wednesday night, you have been witnessing an event vital to the growth of the game—especially to America’s youngest demographic.

It’s 2017, mi gente, and that baseball-is-the-national-pastime stuff is dead. Football is America’s passion and has been for decades. Basketball whoops baseball in so many ways. Soccer is trying to come up, too. MLB still makes lots of money so that isn’t an issue… yet. The average baseball TV viewer is in their 50s so unless Big Pharma develops a Fountain of Youth pill, that’s a problem. America’s youngest demographic, according to the U.S. Census resides in the Latino community (median age: 29). So this tournament could serve a crucial role in growing the sport in the United States and even in other parts of Latin America.

Here’s how.

First, the WBC has brought us The Rally Plátano, #LosRubios and “U-S-A” chants during ballgames. While older baseball fans may be in Clearwater, Florida, or Glendale, Arizona, watching meaningless exhibition games and MLB Advance Media tries to get Twitter buzz over Tim Tebow in Mets camp, baseball’s Latino fan has been watching gut-wrenching, playoff-atmosphere baseball in an environment suitable for a patron saint festival in Puerto Rico or a block party in Washington Heights. This was on full display on March 11, when star-studded Dominican Republic faced the United States in front of a record-breaking 37,446 fans at Miami’s Marlins Park. The March 18 rematch in San Diego sold out as well. (And if Mexico hadn’t fell victim to a tiebreaker rule, its presence at San Diego’s Petco Park certainly would have further helped ticket sales).

Even more telling about Latino interest in this tournament: the Dominican Republic vs. fútbol-crazy Colombia game on March 12 drew 36,592 fans, when Team USA’s ballgame later that same night in the same ballpark drew almost half that total. The game served as a coming out party for Colombian baseball and for young prospects, like Tito Polo and Jorge Alfaro. If this tournament intrigues more boys in Cartagena or in Hialeah to try the game, this exposure might help develop new fans and even a new market.

Second, yo, the no-look tag-style of baseball is the future of the game, unless baseball wants to go the same direction as golf in popularity. This modern style is on full display in this tournament.

Baseball is struggling with a so-called “culture war.” One faction wants the game to be “played the right way” (don’t show up a pitcher by flipping a bat, for instance). Another faction (which has a large Latino contingency) embraces the bat flips and the showmanship. The bat flippers need to win. The Dominicans, Venezuelans (heck, the Koreans!) play with more of that flair. The old school fans are resistant but know your history: college basketball once outlawed the slam dunk. You can also long for the days of the set shot  but this is 2017. So do you think basketball is better off bringing that anti-slam dunk rule back? That’s long gone. The WBC provides more room for the players and fans to let their hair down. (And in Team Puerto Rico’s case, let their bottle-blonde hair down).

Third, all baseball fans don’t have to consume it the same way. Some American soccer fans, for example, only like watching the World Cup. Some fans don’t watch every English Premiership or MLS match but they like Team USA or Brazil. Some fans also don’t watch a linear game but instead follow the commentary on Twitter or watch the highlights later that night. We have all met fans who say “I only watch the Yankees during the playoffs” or “I hate watching baseball on TV but it’s cool to go to a ballgame in person.” A short window of a dozen or so pressure-packed games like what the WBC provides may appeal more to these passive fans.  Also, Latinos, especially the millennial generation, are quite comfortable using Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat. It’s ok if that is how they follow the game. That Adam Jones homerun-stealing catch looks so dope on a smartphone, trust me.

Finally, for the more hardcore baseball fan, this tournament has given exposure to a slew of young stars, which is fun to watch and helps raise these players’ profiles. USA third baseman Nolan Arenado (the Cuban-Rican-American from Cali) is a superstar player but toiling with a mediocre Colorado Rockies team doesn’t expose him to a national audience. Playing in the World Baseball Classic has provided a showcase for his skills. Puerto Rico’s exciting young infield of Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor and Javier Báez has been a delight to watch. Digging even deeper, baseball fans have had the pleasure of seeing young players like the aforementioned Alfaro, Cuba’s Victor Mesa, Puerto Rico’s Joe Jimenez and a Japanese star like Tetsuto Yamada play before they become Major Leaguers.

Despite murmurs, this tournament was financially thriving, increased revenues and ticket sales indicate the WBC may live to see 2021. That would be good news for the game that would like to thrive in the 21st Century.

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Michael Collazo is President & CEO of @DahdayCom, a ticket brokerage. A veteran of the sports & entertainment industry, he has worked for the Cleveland Cavaliers, the former Newark Bears (minor league baseball) and Prudential Center. Follow him on twitter @Mcollazo215

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