Home Runs, Hero Worship: Is That Why We Can’t Pay Attention?

Could it be that media deification of sports stars is at the root of our purported attention deficit and the proclamation that sports like baseball are “too boring”?

“We’ve met the enemy — and he is us.”—Pogo

I had to look up that quote to find its attribution, but I can’t help but think about it as we continue to hear the incessant cries about our waning attention spans and its deleterious effect on the resonance of sports.  Could it be that media deification of sports stars is at the root of our purported attention deficit and the already tired proclamation that sports like baseball are “too boring”?

When we are uber-focused on the individual, we lose sight of what can be attractive about the nuanced whole.  We put our eggs in one basket — and if that basket ultimately breaks, what are we left with?

In baseball, this phenomenon has manifested itself with our fixation on sluggers.  If we focus most on the big home run hitters, how can we not find lapsing attention spans at other junctures of a game?

I find the perfect illustration of my point in last Tuesday’s painful Mets loss.  Forgetting the game’s eventual ugly outcome, it’s worth noting that Jeff McNeil — a Met not known for his home-run power, but refreshingly among the league’s best hitters — and Brandon Nimmo — a likable underdog, just back in the lineup after a season long injury — uncharacteristically hit late-game homers to give the Mets some cushion in what was a tight game with playoff implications.

Social media alerts were silent. Later, comfortably up 8-4 (or so it seemed), the Mets’ Pete Alonso, who has become the media’s obsession as a rookie leading the league in home runs (with still developing other skills) steps up and hits one out. My apps, of course, blew up.

Our research has found that the big story should be about team effort, winning the game, the season-long pursuit of a playoff spot and becoming ingrained in the community. Instead the hype machine is about creating instant superheroes, which fails to promote the strategy, pageantry and subtle nuance of the game itself.  Those are the foundations that our research shows build loyalty and long-term customer value.

I have no axe to grind with Pete Alonso.  His accomplishments this year are phenomenal. He didn’t ask to be canonized.  But he is part of a bigger picture that the media all too often ignore in favor of the simpler and more click-worthy soundbyte.

Fixation on the young sluggers in baseball could be a metaphor for our failure to embrace the greater power of sports. Our work has shown that this broader canvas creates a more enduring engagement with properties that bring sports marketing success.

I understand the desire to bring in more casual fans — and that many see new stars as the magic bullet to captivate these fans. But instant heroes can be fleeting, and there’s so much more to a baseball game than home runs.  If that’s what we’re selling, we ourselves, have diminished the offering.