Playing overseas is the cool thing for American sports leagues to do these days. The NFL and NBA have done it, and now Major League Baseball wants to get in on the action too.
According to various reports, the Red Sox and Yankees are close to a deal that would see the teams play a two-game series in London during the 2019 season. The games would be held at the Olympic Stadium, which houses Premier League side West Ham United.
But England doesn’t care about baseball.
MLB has previously had games in Mexico, Japan, and Australia. This year the league will return to Monterrey, and will also play a game in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The new CBA states that players would receive an extra $60,000 for taking part in overseas games. It makes sense from their perspective, but I’m not sure it does from the league’s perspective.
Previous international games have worked for the league because they have taken place in areas where there is already an interest in the sport. Games in Mexico and Japan have been played in front of sell-out crowds. There is a long history of players from both countries playing in MLB, and thus there are fans there who watch and care about the sport.
Australia’s games haven’t been as well attended, but they still weren’t played in front of empty stadiums. Attendance isn’t the issue. The issue is what the league is really trying to accomplish by playing in London.
If Rob Manfred thinks games in England will significantly increase interest in Baseball in the country, he’s wrong.
I studied in London for six months. I spent much of my time traveling around the country to Tottenham Hotspur’s soccer (football) matches. Since my time studying there I have made an effort to go back every year to attend more Premier League matches, and to visit friends that I made during my time there. Much of that time was spent getting to know some of the biggest sports fans in the United Kingdom. On trains, planes, and buses we would talk about various things, but the conversations would always come back to American sports. Brits were curious about the NFL, the NBA, and even Major League Soccer. But I can tell you, with the utter most confidence, that nobody over there cares about baseball.
Other than American expats, the interest in the game in England is basically nonexistent. English football has a stranglehold over the sporting landscape that is unique in such a developed country. If you’re a sports fan, you’re a football fan. Maybe you attend the odd rugby match, or Wimbledon, or a Formula One or PGA event, but nothing comes close to football’s popularity.
Sure, you will occasionally see people wearing Yankees or Red Sox hats, but those are usually nothing more than a fashion statement.
Any Brits with the attention span necessary to enjoy baseball are more than likely already interested in cricket. The sports are quite similar, and the rules of baseball are just as confusing to an English person as the rules of cricket are to an American.
If the goal is to play in the UK and eventually attract enough of an audience to televise games on Sky Sports and garner decent TV ratings, it won’t work. If the goal is to fill a stadium for two days and to sell some hats and t-shirts, then that will probably work.
But on a “growing the game” scale, that’s equivalent to lifting your leg to take a step out of the batter’s box. It’s not even close to being enough to safely reach first base.