First of a two-part story
This baseball season we have been searching for fans who look like me at Minnesota Twins games. Thus far we’ve found at the ballpark a very small sampling among the majority of White patrons.
Last month we lucked upon two young Black men, St. Cloud Tech baseball players out with friends, and featured their comments. They clearly noticed that they stood out in the stands.
“I like the game in person,” said “Micky” (not his real name), a 32-year-old Black fan who spoke to the MSR on condition of anonymity. Asked what might help increase Black attendance at Twins games, he stressed, “It might be helpful to grab kids who live in North Minneapolis to have more exposure to the game.”
Black baseball fans, or the lack thereof, have been oft-discussed by mainstream media, academia, and in regards to the Twins by this columnist.
Brandon Brown and Gregg Bennett in their “Baseball is Whack!” paper pointed out MLB’s inability to “maintain, build or rebuild a consumer base among [Blacks].” They also featured comments from Blacks, who mainly said that baseball is a White sport with a lack of Black stars and not feeling comfortable attending games. Many held “the perspective that baseball is not able to promote the sport to Black America,” reported the co-authors.
A 2020 Morning Consult poll of over 400,000 sport fans found only 16% of Black adults with a “very favorable” opinion of an MLB team.
When asked if he believes the Twins are doing enough to attract Black fans, Micky said he’s not sure, “but I know there are a lot of local high schools who would like to get free or low-cost tickets” to home games.
Baseball is a sport that it isn’t as attractive to adults as other spectator sports unless you get involved early on either as a player or watching it as a youngster. To many of today’s youngsters, especially Black youth, baseball is a sport that “rewards repetitions,” wrote Stephanie Apstein in a 2020 Sports Illustrated article. “You can work on your jump shot alone. You can’t practice hitting a curveball unless someone is throwing it,” she noted.
“We struggle with attracting the African American community. It is a problem and a challenge,” admitted Eric Hudson, the Twins’ ticket service and retention senior director. This despite the fact that Minnesota have had their share of Black stars such as Torii Hunter and Kirby Puckett over the years.
“We have marketed [the team] as a brand and a product that should appeal to everybody in the state of Minnesota,” explained Hudson. “But we didn’t include people of color. We need to find a way for our people to take ownership” to improve Black attendance at Twins games, he said.
Hudson’s young son plays baseball: “We were in a tournament in Brooklyn Park. There was one Black kid on every one of these teams,” including his son’s squad. “My boy noticed it, and I noticed it. Where are they?”
This age-old problem of getting more Blacks at baseball games here in Minnesota and elsewhere seems today as unsolvable as ever. Speaking for the Twins, Hudson said, “I can’t tell you I got the answer, but I can tell you from an organizational perspective…that we may just need to keep targeting [Black communities] a different way in order to get better results.”
Next: Our discussion on marketing and attracting Blacks to Twins games continues with Hudson and other team officials.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.