MLB is close to a sellout at the 40,000-seat Sydney Cricket Ground for this weekend's two Opening Series games in Australia. The Dodgers and D-Backs will each play a team of Australian nationals, including nine under contract to MLB teams, before playing each other in the first two games of the '14 season at the 166-year-old cricket field. Crowds of 10,000-15,000 are expected for the two exhibition games. Moore Sports is the local promoter. D-Backs P Ryan Rowland-Smith, an Australia native, is expected to pitch for Team Australia against the Dodgers one night, and face Team Australia as a member of the D-Backs in the next game. Major sponsors for the Opening Series are tourism agency Destination New South Wales; Qantas Airlines; Guggenheim Partners; which owns the Dodgers and the Sydney Cricket Trust, which owns the stadium that has been converted to a baseball diamond this week
. ESPN Australia is carrying all four games and will sponsor a "fan party deck" in the outfield. New Era, Majestic and Rawlings are producing commemorative items, many of which will be sold through official retailer Rebel Sports. Including the teams and league officials, more than 500 people traveled to Sydney for the games. "We'll have a full ballpark and we expect a strong television rating, but this will be evaluated on what kind of platform it gives MLB and where we go from here," said MLB Senior VP/Int'l Operations Paul Archey. "We're looking to energize our fan base, our business partners and create new fans and players here." According to MLB, broadcast revenue from Australia has increased by 81% since '08, with 388 live MLB games televised last season. The four-year-old Australian Baseball League, of which MLB is a majority owner, has catalyzed a more than fourfold increase in sales of MLB-licensed merchandise in Australia since '10.