(USA Baseball)

With nearly 25 million participants, baseball and softball combined to rank as the most participated team sports in the United States in 2016 according to the annual report produced by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA), Major League Baseball announced today. Findings in this year's Topline Participation Report were presented during the quarterly MLB owners meetings, which concluded today, and included the following data:

  • Overall baseball participation increased by 7.7% and slow-pitch softball participation increased by 8.1% in 2016, with casual participation in both baseball and slow-pitch softball showing the highest growth.
  • In 2016, casual participation in baseball rose by 18.1% and slow-pitch softball increased by 12.4%.
  • Casual participation in baseball and slow-pitch softball is up 34% over the last five years.
  • When combined, baseball and softball (fast-and slow-pitch) have more casual participants than any other sport (10.25 million total casual participants).


Tom Cove, SFIA President and CEO said: "The growth in Baseball and Softball participation is significant as traditional team sports do not usually see these kind of double digit increases. These numbers suggest something special is happening with baseball and softball. We believe basic efforts to put a ball, bat and glove in more young people's hands really connect with the joy of the game. The biggest increases are in casual participation, and this uptick represents a huge opportunity for the baseball and softball community to build ongoing and deeper player engagement with the game in the future."

Baseball Commissioner Robert D. Manfred, Jr. said: "No goal is more important to Major League Baseball than making baseball and softball accessible and to engage with children in all communities. The results of the SFIA Report demonstrate that participation in baseball and softball is growing. We are encouraged by the success of the PLAY BALL initiative toward our objectives and grateful for partnerships with USA Baseball, USA Softball and the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Together, we will continue to work to provide memorable experiences for young people, especially those from underserved areas."

In 2015, Major League Baseball launched the "PLAY BALL" initiative as the sport's largest collective effort to encourage young people to participate in baseball- or softball-related activities, including formal leagues, special events and casual forms of play. PLAY BALL events have become MLB's signature youth engagement activity during the professional and amateur baseball and softball calendar, particularly in connection with key dates from Spring Training, through the MLB Championship Season and into the Postseason and World Series. PLAY BALL aims to highlight the fun and community-focused natures of the game at the Major League, professional, amateur and youth levels. In addition to flagship partnerships with USA Baseball and USA Softball, PLAY BALL is also supported by all 30 MLB Clubs, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and MLB Corporate Partners Chevrolet, Scotts and Nathan's Famous. In 2016, MLB Network launched Play Ball, a weekly player interview and demonstration show geared toward kids. In the program, MLB stars, including Bryce Harper, Dexter Fowler, Francisco Lindor and Anthony Rizzo, have discussed their experiences reaching the Major Leagues and shared tips in one-on-one demonstrations and conversations with MLB Network analysts. Currently in its second season, Play Ball is available on multiple platforms, including MLB Network, MLB At Bat, MLB.com and Facebook.

"We are pleased to see that this latest round of SFIA data showcases baseball and softball as healthy and flourishing sports," said Paul Seiler, Executive Director/CEO of USA Baseball. "While this progress is encouraging, we remain steadfast in furthering the many sport development initiatives that have helped to make this growth possible. The collective effort being led by MLB, its 30 Clubs, USA Baseball and USA Softball, as well as the support of the many national amateur organizations around the country, is having a discernible impact on families and communities in the United States."

"Seeing the growth of both baseball and softball means that opportunities continue to expand for people to get involved in bat and ball sports," said USA Softball Executive Director Craig Cress. "We are honored to be partnered with MLB and USA Baseball for the PLAY BALL initiative and believe that the efforts of all three organizations has greatly contributed to the growth in participation in both sports. By putting a bat and ball in kids' hands and growing the game at the grassroots level, it fosters a passion and love for the game, which is the reason why so many get involved in our great sports. We look forward to continuing to work with MLB and USA Baseball in providing more opportunities for young people across the country to get involved in baseball and softball."

Mick Cornett, Mayor of Oklahoma City & President of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, said: "The U.S. Conference of Mayors is pleased to have joined Major League Baseball over the past three years on its Play Ball program. Over 200 mayors this summer will be conducting activities to promote our great national pastime and encourage kids to have active and healthy lifestyles. The numbers being released today on the growth of baseball and softball in our cities by young people shows that our efforts are working."