Baseball is the oldest of the four major professional sports leagues in the United States and Canada. While it traces its history back to the 18th century, it wasn't until the 20th century that it really became America's national pastime. And as it grew, it became big business. Going from a handful of teams in the early years to 30 Major League teams—15 in the National League and 15 in the American League—in 2018. Add to that, there are over 250 minor league teams all of which have their own fan bases.
Like all professional sports, baseball has the potential to bring in millions of dollars in profits. But only if people watch and continue to watch. In the beginning that meant watching in person during the day, but time brought changes and that meant more fans, and more fans meant more revenue. Baseball was first broadcast on the radio in 1921, the first night game was played in 1935, the first games on television were broadcast in 1948, and the number of games played per season increased. Radio and then television and cable each brought in additional revenue, which has supplemented the constant source of revenue from in-person attendance. In addition, the League has made money though licensing and other avenues.
One early example was the collecting of baseball cards. Baseball advertising in the United States began with the images of baseball players on cards sold with tobacco products in the 1880s through World War II. But then the baseball card industry took on a life of its own with the increasing popularity of the cards as collectibles. There has also been an increase in income from the licensing of baseball equipment as well as the sale of team related memorabilia for both major and minor league teams including jerseys, hats, etc. Teams and the League also look to special events like the World Series, the All-Star game/All-Star weekend, and spring training and to increase viewership and interest and to increase revenue.
The business of baseball has been impacted by the relationship between owners and players, leagues and MLB players' unions (minor league players are not unionized), and team lawyers and players' lawyers. Those that research this industry claim that the Major Baseball League's monopoly, negotiations for increasingly large salaries for players, strikes by players, ticket prices, and the aging of the core fan base are all factors that have contributed to the slowed growth of this industry in recent years. But baseball is not the only professional sport; it competes with others, most particularly basketball and football and increasingly soccer as well.
One newer trend in baseball is "sabermetrics" - the statistical analysis of baseball using statistics to measure in-game activity - which has also impacted the business end of the sport even though it is focused more on the sport itself. It is based on the acronym SABR, which stands for the Society for American Baseball Research. While its current form was pioneered by Bill James, it traces its history back to Earnshaw Cook’s book Percentage Baseball. A prime example of this is seen in the book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis.
These are just a few of the more business-themed resources related to baseball. Note that there may also be relevant information in the General Resources section of this guide.
The following materials link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to digital content are provided when available.
We have included some resources that are not business specific in an effort to provide sources that can help researchers understand the sport itself and its structure.
If you are looking to search the catalog for more general titles see the Search the Library's Catalog page. Additional works on the baseball business in the Library of Congress may be identified by searching the Library of Congress Online Catalog under appropriate subject headings. Choose the topics you wish to search from the following list of subject headings to link directly to the Catalog and automatically execute a search that will allow you to browse related subject headings. For assistance in locating the many other subject headings which relate to baseball as a business, please consult a reference librarian.