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Amazon and the Yankees are overlooking an important demographic

There’s always been talk about integrating the younger and perhaps more casual fans to the game, but let’s not ignore the most loyal ones.

Sportscaster Mel Allen

When the Yankees hosted the Guardians at Yankee Stadium this past Friday, it marked the first time that Amazon’s Prime Video served as the exclusive host for a game broadcast. In case you’re still not one hundred percent clear about the Yankees' new setup with Prime Video (if you aren’t, don’t be embarrassed as you’ve got a lot of company), the Yankees have essentially replaced 21 games that in the past would have been broadcast on a local channel like WPIX and made them available exclusively through Amazon’s online streaming service instead.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have received some great advice in my day that has helped me through many situations, big and small. Perhaps the best advice I’ve ever received is “Things are going to change with or without your consent.” It was given to me in a business context by a former business coach, but I’ve learned that it can be applied to almost every aspect of life. Perhaps with that in mind, I simply shrugged when I initially learned about the Yankees agreement with Prime Video — things of this nature will always change; there’s no need to fixate on it and add more clutter to one’s mind. Yet now that we’ve experienced the new normal, maybe we can look at it with a little more clarity and perhaps skepticism, regardless of the information or “heads-ups” we were initially given.

I obviously have no inside information regarding Amazon and the Yankees’ strategic long game, but I think it’s a safe assumption that a move to streaming is at least in part to stay in touch with a younger audience. It certainly seems likely that younger people may be more inclined than folks further up the age spectrum to watch a game on a portable device or through a streaming service rather than cable. Of course, what that doesn’t address is that if the issue is the game itself, where it’s shown won’t really matter, nor will it help to add yet another place where games can be seen, making a game that one may be interested in harder to find.

The switch also appears to make it less likely to reel in new or casual fans. Many of us have scrolled through the channel guide while sitting on our couch looking for something to watch, or watched a sporting event in a bar or restaurant that caught our eye (even if that wasn’t the primary reason we were there). In 2014, I was watching Derek Jeter’s final game at Yankee Stadium on big screens in a bar and grill in Louisville, and when Jeter lined his walk-off hit, the bar erupted like none other I’ve ever been in.

I think it’s a safe assumption that most people in Kentucky on a Thursday night didn’t go out to eat and drink with much intention of following the Yankee captain’s farewell, but over the last hour or so of that game, pretty much every patron in a packed bar had the Yankees and Derek Jeter on the mind and went home with a good baseball memory (or an all-time great one, in my case). Some bars carry might air streaming services, but it’s not very common, and more often than not, those TVs are going to simply air sports on cable rather than going out of their way to show games on Prime.*

*The same idea idea applies to any game broadcasts that are restricted to Apple TV+ or NBC’s Peacock.

Although the above demographics of young people and casual fans are often brought up in this discussion, to me there’s a group that’s vastly overlooked — that would be the oldest members of Yankees Universe. We all have different perspectives on who and what is “old,” and I certainly don’t want to offend anyone, but I’m generally referring to senior citizens and folks who likely refer to themselves as “old” without reservation. Fans whose loyalty goes back to watching games called by Mel Allen and played by Mickey Mantle, and who still make a point to be in front of the TV every night to watch Aaron Judge play and listen to David Cone provide commentary. For many of them, it would take a pretty important life event for them to miss a game, and it’s been that way since before there was color television, let alone cable TV, or online streaming services.

To a large percentage of these fans, this switch to 21 games exclusive to Prime Video streaming is not an issue of money*, it’s an issue of hassle, and not an insignificant one. Differentiating between regular TV, cable TV, online streaming services and why some channels are available on all the above, while other channels are only available on one, is a foreign language to many in this demographic and that’s before getting into which devices (“smart” TVs vs. older models, newer Apple TV units vs. early models, Amazon Fire, etc.) are capable of streaming live events. In fact, many in this group, may not own these devices at all.

*Although replacing WPIX, which is included in most cable TV packages, with a separate services that cost an additional charge shouldn’t be minimized.

It’s a scenario that simply creates a ton of frustration, likely leading to the point of hands being thrown in the air with a decision to simply watch something else. It’s a less-than-honorable manner in which to treat your longest-tenured and most loyal customers, and that’s me expressing my thoughts as politely as possible. While I’m on my high horse, I’ll also note that even if you’re not in this demographic yet, there will come a time in which advancements come at a pace that exceeds your inclination or patience to keep up with them, and you’ll find it frustrating too. Furthermore, I’m not going to pretend to be as good at business management as Amazon or the Yankees, but the coach with great advice I alluded to earlier also commonly taught that alienating your loyal, long-time customers in an effort to add new ones is always bad business.

Again, since the games in question were previously included in the price of one’s local cable subscription and are now an extra charge for Prime Video, the situation is simply just another cash grab by the Yankees, already the most valuable franchise in sports. Most importantly, it’s a cash grab that doesn’t improve the customer’s experience. In fact, one could argue that given the streaming issues that many customers reported – audio going in and out and not synching with the video in my case – it worsens the experience. To circle back to the great advice I received, although it’s very true that things will change without our consent, that doesn’t mean we always have to be happy about it.