As the 2022 season begins, how do Americans feel about Major League Baseball?

Linley SandersData Journalist
Taylor OrthDirector of Survey Data Journalism
April 06, 2022, 1:44 PM GMT+0

After resolving a work stoppage that nearly canceled games, Major League Baseball is scheduled to begin its 2022 season this week with Opening Day. A recent YouGov poll asked 1,000 U.S. adult citizens about their opinions on recent MLB rule changes and on the sport more broadly.

Half of Americans polled say they’re at least a little interested in MLB. Interest in MLB is especially high among men and adults under 30. Roughly one in four Americans (27%) say they plan to watch MLB games on TV this season, and 12% say they plan to attend an MLB game in person.

Around two in five Americans (36%) say they have a favorite MLB team — more than plan to watch games on television this season. When provided with a list of current teams, the teams most likely to be selected as favorites are the New York Yankees (10%), the Boston Red Sox (9%), and the Atlanta Braves (8%). The teams least likely to be cited as favorites are the San Diego Padres, the Miami Marlins, and the Oakland Athletics.

Why do Americans who have favorite teams support those particular clubs? The three most common reasons selected (from among a list of options, with more than one choice permitted) are where they grew up (46% say this), their family (36%), and where they live now (27%). Less frequently cited reasons include their friends (20%), the players (18%), and the team’s record (8%). Americans who say they are very interested in MLB are more likely to cite the players as a reason for supporting their favorite team than are those with less interest in MLB.

We also asked Americans with at least some interest in MLB their opinions on recent rule changes impacting the sport:

MLB recently announced that it would do away with the “ghost runner” rule, instituted during the pandemic, which in each of the past two seasons had teams begin each extra inning with a runner on second base. About half (51%) say they oppose the ghost runner rule, while 20% support it. People who say they are very interested in MLB are more than twice as likely to support the ghost runner rule (33% support) as are people who are only a little interested (12% support).

A larger share (38%) say they support the MLB’s new “Ohtani rule” that allows universal designated hitters so pitchers don’t have to take a turn at bat, while 27% oppose this rule. People who are very interested in MLB are far more likely to support the rule (62%) compared to people who are only a little interested (22%). People who plan to attend or watch games on TV are also more likely to support the rule than are people who don’t.

During the pandemic, seven-inning doubleheaders were added to alleviate the burden of potentially rescheduling games that were postponed due to COVID-19. Americans with an interest in MLB appear largely supportive of the league’s decision to do away with seven-inning games. Half (50%) say they prefer nine innings for MLB doubleheaders while 27% prefer seven innings. People with more interest are more in favor of seven innings, though in this group, as well, nine innings gets more support.

MLB has operated under an antitrust exemption since 1922, when the Supreme Court ruled that the league could suppress wages and make other business decisions normally prohibited under anti-monopoly rules. No other professional sports league has been given the same exemption. Senator Bernie Sanders recently called on Congress to end MLB’s antitrust exemption.

We asked Americans whether professional sports leagues should be exempt from antitrust legislation and found that they were far more likely to oppose an exemption (45% oppose) than to support one (14% support). Many – 41% – are unsure. Americans who say they’re very interested in MLB are more likely to support an exemption for pro sports leagues generally than are Americans with less interest in MLB, though they are still more likely to oppose rather than support an exemption.

A March 1968 poll conducted by Louis Harris & Associates (accessed via the Roper Center) found that 55% of Americans said they felt that “professional baseball has become more a business than a sport for the enjoyment of fans,” while 45% said they didn’t feel this way.

After ruling out respondents who aren’t sure — which wasn’t a response option on the earlier poll — we find that today a much larger share of Americans with an opinion, 79%, feel professional baseball has become more of a business. Only 21% now say they don’t feel this way. This view may be tied to another finding from our poll: Nearly half of Americans (49%) say they think MLB players are paid too much, while 17% say they are paid the right amount and 6% say they are paid too little.

- Allen Houston contributed to this article

See the toplines and crosstabs from this U.S. News Poll

Methodology: This U.S. News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,000 U.S. adult citizens interviewed online from March 25 - 30, 2022. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the 2018 American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, as well as news interest and 2020 Presidential votes (or non-votes). Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. citizens. The margin of error is approximately 4% for the entire sample.

Image: Getty