Major League Baseball has the oldest fan base among the four major sports, and the Baltimore Orioles want to do something to change that. The team announced Monday that it is starting a program called Kids Cheer Free in which parents can bring children age 9 and younger to games for free.
Every parent who buys a regularly priced upper-deck seat can get two free tickets in the upper deck for their kids. The promotion runs month-to-month, so tickets for games from March 31 to April 29 are available now.
It is believed to be the first such initiative offered by a major league team.
"That's pretty cool," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said Monday. "Nobody else is doing that."
The Orioles last year allowed kids to run the bases after Sunday games and invited scores of Little League teams to march on the field and meet players before several Sunday games. This season, they have an enhanced Kid's Corner, which will include an interactive treehouse activity center, a jungle gym, a moon bounce and Skee-Ball. They've also expanded kid-friendly food offerings.
According to a Sports Business Journal article from 2017, the average age of MLB fans in 2016 was 57. For the NFL it was 50, NHL 49 and NBA 42.
Youth participation in baseball was also on the decline for almost two decades before showing improvement in the past few years. In 2015, MLB launched its Play Ball program to encourage kids to play baseball and softball.
"Baseball is the bedrock recreational institution in American life, where childhood memories are born and family bonds are forever formed," said Greg Bader, the Orioles' vice president for communications and marketing. "It is our hope that this unprecedented program will bring the magic of Orioles baseball to families from all walks of life and ultimately grow our game."
Baltimore ranked 23rd in the majors in home attendance last season, attracting 2,028,424 fans -- down from 2,172,344 in 2016. By letting kids attend games for free, the Orioles hope to bring more adults to the park and entice more families to enjoy a day at Camden Yards.
"The Orioles' mission, and that of the national game of baseball, is to cast a broad community outreach. That effort starts with thoughtfully expanding our initiatives benefiting kids and families," Orioles executive vice president John Angelos said. "The Orioles are committed to sustaining the access for families from all walks of life to our great game, and that commitment is reflected in the Kids Cheer Free initiative and our many other family-focused programs."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.