Participation in baseball on the rise

February 21st, 2019

There are more things for people to do (especially in the digital realm) than at any previous point in history. But baseball -- the oldest and perhaps most unchanged of America’s major professional sports -- appears to be holding a strong appeal.

A recent study by the Sports and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) found that the amount of people who played baseball within the United States rose 21 percent from the year 2014 to ‘18, or approximately 15.9 million people overall spanning all age groups. For the third consecutive year, baseball and softball combined to be the most participated team sport in the U.S. with 25.6 million participants.

Baseball participation at the lower levels has been a key mission of MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, who launched the sport’s Play Ball youth initiative in 2015. Play Ball’s simple goal is to get more kids to hit, throw or catch a baseball, even if it’s not within the boundaries of an organized game. The sport has also partnered with USA Baseball to create baseball programs in school gym classes across the 50 states, with a stated goal to reach one million kids this year.

Part of the growth of participation through Play Ball can be attributed to the many partners of the initiative, including: USA Baseball, USA Softball, Major League clubs, Minor League Baseball, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Little League International and MLB corporate sponsors (Scotts, Kingsford and Chevrolet).

“Increasing access for young people to participate in baseball and softball has been a top priority for our industry since Commissioner Manfred’s tenure began in 2015,” said Tony Reagins, MLB’s executive vice president of baseball and softball development. “We are proud to see our sport’s efforts having this kind of positive impact so far. We will continue to seek out opportunities to grow our programming and ensure that every child who wants to play our great game will have every opportunity to do so.”

Baseball has seen a 52.8 percent overall increase in casual participation with the sport since Play Ball launched. That surge includes African-American youths, whose participation in baseball outranked football as recently as 2016, per the SFIA. The Aspen Institute’s most recent “State of Play” trending and development report also found that baseball and softball combined for the most youth participants (ages six to 12) of any sport.

In a time when getting kids outside and engaged in physical exercise is as important as ever, it seems the national pastime remains near the top of chosen activities.