Doubleheader takes MLB to London
26 June 2019
Reflective of a commitment to take its outstanding product to the world, Major League Baseball continues to engage other baseball countries in the conduct of its regular competition.
Australia, Mexico, Japan and Puerto Rico have all become part of professional baseball history by playing host to games between Major League Baseball clubs outside of United States jurisdiction.
England is poised to join that group, as iconic rivals New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox will slug out a doubleheader at London Stadium over 29 and 30 June this year – the first time that MLB has played competition games in Europe.
Home to West Ham United, the extensively-used stadium – host for the 2012 Olympic Games – has been seriously revamped over the past several weeks and is expected to be in immaculate baseball-ready condition for an historic series that again demonstrates an MLB willingness to share the best of its great sport with the rest of the world.
Major League Baseball has already committed to return to London in June 2020 for a series between St Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs, a clear indication that this particular foray into Europe is by no means intended as a one-off.
Australia has enjoyed a direct taste of MLB product, with the ground-breaking doubleheader between Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks being played in Sydney during 2014 – an event that has many in our country keen to host MLB games into the future.
The London Series, as it has become known, has posed significant challenges given that baseball is a minor sport in Great Britain – which has a WBSC ranking of 38 - and the appropriate infrastructure isn’t there. It is estimated that there are just 4000 regular baseball players in United Kingdom – compared with 150,000 for basketball – yet it is projected that the London Stadium re-configuration for this weekend’s doubleheader has the potential to accommodate 60,000 people.
While London is a city of over 8.5 million people, a capacity crowd is surely an ambitious target, even given that Prince Harry has reportedly committed to attend on at least one of the days – and he may even be constrained to toss a first royal pitch!
(EDITOR'S NOTE: according to a fascinating article on U.K. baseball published in New York Times this week, around 120,000 tickets for the two games were sold out in less than an hour).
And as far as timing goes, the MLB doubleheader has been scheduled during the Cricket World Cup and just prior to Wimbledon – massive sporting events that will preoccupy the media, along with millions of sports fans over days and weeks to come.
However the British public responds to the event, the London Series offers a further opportunity for Major League Baseball to build its brand overseas – on this occasion in the population hub of a dedicated and long-standing world partner, one that over time may help provide a gateway to broader baseball engagement in Europe despite recent grief generated over Brexit.
Of particular interest is the fact that Major League Baseball interests have reportedly been in London for several weeks now – not only ensuring that the stadium is up to scratch for the doubleheader but also underwriting delivery of the inaugural MLB Cup, a three-day tournament currently in progress between the best 17-21 year-old players in United Kingdom and other European countries.
For the baseball purist – in Australia, in United States or elsewhere in the world, the doubleheader shapes as another brilliant shootout between two iconic, powerful and successful clubs who are currently both looking strong in American League standings.
More particularly, though, baseball people – in Australia and overseas – will be viewing with great interest how the MLB visit is received by a sports-loving British public and how its success or otherwise might impact on strategies for genuine globalisation of the sport.
Games will be broadcast live on BT Sport – MLB’s TV partner in the UK – and also by the BBC.
With assistance of our baseball friends in the UK, Australian Baseball Alumni will seek to provide updates and insights on the London Series.