This was supposed to be the opening weekend of Major League Baseball, that surest harbinger of spring. But the coronavirus has at least long delayed the start of the season for America’s Pastime.
Good thing we still have Strat-O-Matic, the 59-year-old baseball board game that at this very minute is gaining legions of new players as Americans search for ways to remain attached to a sport that fans can’t attend and isn’t being played for the time being.
Adam Richman, an owner and the son of Hal Richman, who invented the game when he was 11 years old, told Chief Executive that Strat-O-Matic is enjoying a round of higher popularity these days, several years after he launched a digital initiative that transformed the platform from an old- fashioned table game to an up-to-date digital one.
“We’re having a really exciting moment,” said Richman about the small company based in Glen Head, on Long Island, New York. “With the unfortunate situation the country is in, people are looking for distractions. And with Strat-O-Matic, we’re creating intergenerational joy around baseball.”
Specifically, Strat-O-Matic on Thursday launched a virtual simulation of each day’s Major League Baseball results through the end of the previously scheduled actual season, based on individual player statistics and other data that were up to date as of the weekend’s virtual-only “first pitch.” The simulation stems from the Strat-O-Matic Baseball Daily digital game, which continuously harnesses projections and proprietary algorithms to create a digital “baseball card” for each player. Richman came up with Baseball Daily several years ago to modernize the board game invented by his father.
But even as Richman has come up with something new for Strat-O-Matic to help fill the gap in actual pro-baseball play, the original board version of the game, first commercialized in 1962, is enjoying a big renaissance at the same time. Each year’s version is based on the statistics of players from the previous year and uses dice, cards and statistical probabilities.
“We had our biggest year sales-wise last year, and this year will be even bigger,” said the 50-year-old Richman, whose 83-year-old father remains active in the business. The turn of Major League Baseball toward statistical analysis as a management and coaching aid, the steady rise in popularity of fantasy baseball, and more recently the broad liberalization of sports gambling each has fed Strat-O-Matic’s rise. Coronavirus-related social distancing has taken it to a whole new level this year.
“What we’re seeing now are two things,” Richman said. “First, because of the coronavirus, people who are brand new to Strat-O-Matic are coming to us because they want something to do that’s sports-related, and there’s no baseball right now. And, second, we’re seeing lots of lapsed customers come back.”
A big part of the mini-boom in sales currently being enjoyed by Strat-O-Matic, Richman believes, is the abrupt self-quarantining of many American families, meaning that two or sometimes three generations of baseball fans suddenly can be residing in the same household with plenty of idle time on their hands. In the case of the board game, it’s a format that seniors are used to – baseball fans who probably aren’t going to join their kids or grandkids in playing a video-game simulation of the sport.
Strat-O-Matic is still busily shipping board versions out of its warehouse in Glen Head because, under New York state coronavirus guidelines, one warehouse employee working alone can be allowed to keep shipping going. Typically, Richman said, about a half-dozen people are employed at the distribution center. Strat-O-Matic employs a few dozen people overall, including about 25 digital-game developers in Los Angeles.
Richman declined to disclose the company’s revenues, which also come from games Strat-O-Matic developed around rosters for professional football, basketball and hockey.