Sports

Baseball Fans Are Open to the Idea of Robot Umpires

Half of MLB fans say they support an automated ball and strike system that relays calls to a human umpire, according to new survey

Image of MLB baseball players and an umpire
Bryson Stott of the Philadelphia Phillies reacts after being called out on strikes by umpire Jeremy Riggs on July 7 in Philadelphia. Forty-eight percent of MLB fans said they support the implementation of an automated ball and strike system, also known as “robo umps,” beginning in 2024, an idea floated recently by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred. (Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

MLB fans, it may be time to welcome your robot overlords.

Baseball is known for its long-standing traditions, unwritten rules about players’ on-field conduct and a fan base that skews older compared to other major U.S. professional sports. A new Morning Consult survey, however, found that MLB fans are gradually entering the modern era and accepting likely changes to the sport.

A plurality of self-identified MLB fans (48%) said they support the implementation of an automated ball and strike system, also known as “robo umps,” for MLB’s 2024 season. Thirty-six percent of fans said they do not support such a system, which Commissioner Rob Manfred floated as a possibility in a wide-ranging ESPN interview last month.

Nearly Half of MLB Fans Support the Use of Robot Umpires

MLB fans were asked if they support or oppose the following replay technologies under consideration by MLB:

Survey was conducted July 5-6, 2022, among 1,214 self-identified MLB fans, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-3 percentage points. Figures may not add up to 100% due to rounding.
The future of baseball
  • Half of MLB fans said they “strongly support” or “somewhat support” an automated ball and strike system that calls every pitch during a game and relays the balls and strikes to a human home plate umpire via an earpiece. There’s slightly more support (55%) for a replay review system of balls and strikes, which would allow each manager to challenge several calls per game. 
  • While self-identified sports fans showed slightly less enthusiasm for robo umps than MLB fans did, a clear plurality still supported the concept. Of the options included in the survey, regular sports fans showed the most support for in-game manager challenges at 54%.  
  • More than half of MLB fans (54%) said they are “very interested” or “somewhat interested” to watch a game in which a home plate umpire receives balls and strikes through an earpiece, while 56% expressed interest in watching games featuring manager challenges.
Only 44% of MLB Fans Say Umpires ‘Almost Always’ Get Calls Right

Respondents were asked how often they think MLB officials make the right calls

Survey was conducted July 5-6, 2022, among a representative sample of 2,210 U.S. adults, including 1,214 self-identified MLB fans, with unweighted margins of error of +/-2 percentage points and 3 percentage points, respectively. The survey also included 1,544 self-identified sports fans, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-2 percentage points. Figures may not add up to 100% due to rounding.
  • More than 2 in 5 MLB fans (44%) believe MLB umpires “almost always” make the right calls, 15 percentage points higher than the share of U.S. adults who think so. More than 1 in 3 sports fans (37%) said similarly, but that figure was down 14 percentage points from a May 2021 Morning Consult survey.
  • A majority of both MLB fans (63%) and regular sports fans (60%) said they trust robo umps to make the right calls “a lot” or “some” of the time. 
  • Only 1 in 3 MLB fans said they believe rules are “very consistently” enforced in the sport.
Leveling the playing field 

An automated ball and strike system was introduced in the minor leagues last year, cutting the average length of games by nine additional minutes, per MLB. Despite only about 1 in 3 MLB fans (32%) saying they have seen, read or heard about its use, there’s already a baseline of support among MLB fans. 

That support, combined with reports that Manfred is already looking to implement the technology in the big leagues in 2024, suggests that baseball fans would be wise to ready themselves for a world in which computers, at least in part, are the arbiter of balls and strikes.  

The survey was conducted July 5-6, 2022, among a representative sample of 2,210 U.S. adults, including 1,214 self-identified MLB fans, with unweighted margins of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points and 3 percentage points, respectively. The survey also included 1,544 self-identified sports fans, with an unweighted margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points. 

Morning Consult