WBC Semis See Slow Ticket Sales; Team USA, MLB Taken To Task For Approach
Last night's Puerto Rico-Japan World Baseball Classic semifinal game at AT&T Park drew 33,683, nearly 8,000 short of a sellout, as MLB and the MLBPA grappled with relative sales weakness for the championship round games in S.F. With the host club Giants long active in dynamic pricing, low-end face value ticket prices on Saturday were reduced to $8 for the semifinal games last night and tonight. Prices for bleacher seats to tonight's semifinal between the Netherlands and the Dominican Republic have since been reduced to $5. Both semifinal games on the secondary market fell to the effective $6 minimum price established by league partner StubHub. MLB and the union project a cumulative attendance of about 100,000 for the three championship round games this week. As expected, the absence of the U.S. team is seen as a significant factor dragging down demand. "To get to around 100,000 without the host country club, we think that is a strong show," said Paul Archey, MLB senior vice president of international business. "And this event isn't specifically about the host market here, but growing the game globally, which this event is definitely doing." Giants President & CEO Larry Baer said the local fan base is still becoming familiar with the tournament, now in its third iteration. "We're still building the brand on this event," Baer said. "A lot of our season ticket holders don't really know what this is all about." Comparatively, the Giants have not had a crowd as small as last night since Sept. 1, 2010, before their '10 and '12 World Series wins. Japan, the two-time defending tournament champion, was eliminated last night 3-1 (Eric Fisher, Staff Writer).
LET'S GET SERIOUS: In New Jersey, Bob Klapisch wrote, "Anyone who saw Team USA fall short (again) in the World Baseball Classic has undoubtedly figured out we’re never going to win this tournament. Not until someone actually takes it seriously." That includes the "players and managers," and "especially" MLB Commissioner Bud Selig. For now, the WBC is "nothing more than a global marketing tool" for MLB. Klapisch: "Why can’t baseball generate the same Q-rating from its rank and file? Because winning doesn’t really matter, not like it does to the other countries" (NORTHJERSEY.com, 3/17). SI.com's Tom Verducci wrote Americans "bring Major League Baseball sensibilities to tournament baseball." Which means they "suffer from trying to satisfy 30 general managers, a passive-aggressive approach at the plate, and a lack of emotion (not desire) because, well, there is that unwritten code of how a Major League player is expected to act." The Dominican, Italian, Dutch and Japanese teams all "played with a feeling in their hearts that this was bigger than the regular season." That is "simply not true of the Americans, no matter how earnest their intentions." Team USA P R.A. Dickey said to play an MLB season like the Dominicans "is unsustainable." Verducci: "Baseball is like jazz: Maybe it was born in America, and we are still the best at it and think of it as 'ours,' but it belongs to the world. And to see it interpreted different ways is really what the WBC is all about" (SI.com, 3/16). In N.Y., Kevin Kernan wrote MLB "must change the way it does business and overhaul the USA’s approach to this tournament." An AL scout said, "If our goal is to grow baseball around the world, we’re doing a great job. Because everybody is kicking our ass" (N.Y. POST, 3/17).
RED, WHITE & THE BLUES: ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick wrote Team USA is "making a habit of standing forlornly in the dugout and watching as other nations' representatives wave flags and jump around the infield in celebration." Maybe the WBC is "serving its intended purpose if it's spurring interest in Japan, the Latin locales and up-and-coming baseball countries such as Italy and the Netherlands." But if American baseball officials "want their team to have more of an impact in future Classics, questions need to be asked about logistical or roster makeup issues that might be putting Team USA at a disadvantage." Team USA manager Joe Torre "has to balance the desire to win with a mandate to make sure each player is handled in the manner prescribed by his individual club." More observers "have wondered of late" if WBC participation should be "mandatory rather than optional" (ESPN.com, 3/16). In Chicago, Phil Rogers writes, "Maybe one day the United States will win this event. But not as long as the WBC retains the second-class status it holds among big league front offices and with most American fans" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 3/18). Team USA C Jonathan Lucroy said of the WBC, "I think it's going to be tough for us to really compete in it. I don't have the answer to it, unless we play year-round, which guys aren't going to do. We had some great starting pitchers, but the top, top guys don't feel ready. Our whole lineup was stacked with All-Stars and MVPs, but if guys aren't ready, they aren't ready" (USA TODAY, 3/18). But BASEBALL AMERICA's Ben Badler wrote, "While it's tempting to want to draw sweeping conclusions, label Team USA as a massive failure, point to the players who didn't show up or contrast the outward emotion of the Dominican Republic to the United States, the reality is that it's still just six games, with two close losses to a pair of teams that each have several above-average big leaguers" (BASEBALLAMERICA.com, 3/17).
INSULT TO INJURY: The N.Y. Daily News’ John Harper said the recent injuries of Team USA 3B David Wright and 1B Mark Teixeira is “exactly why teams fear” the WBC. Harper: "This is why it’s never going to be the Olympic-style event that Bud Selig wants it to be. Teams are always going to discourage players, even if they’re not supposed to, from playing” (“Daily News Live,” SportsNet N.Y., 3/15). Archey said, “Overall, if you look at the previous World Baseball Classics and you get away from perception and you look at statistics, you're more likely to get injured in Spring Training if you didn't play in the World Baseball Classic than if you did statistically, so I think part of it is just getting used to it.” Meanwhile, Archey said of MLB's role in the WBC, "We have to have a leadership position. We want baseball to be a global game and it is. These games here will be broadcast over 200 countries and we have … players on our rosters that are nearly 30 percent foreign-born so yes, we have a leadership role in that" (“Chronicle Live,” Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, 3/15).
UGLY AMERICANS? YAHOO SPORTS' Jeff Passan wrote, "The bellyaching and bitching about the horns and flag-waving and general enthusiasm that emanates from the fan bases of Latin American teams -- and the way they infuse the players with the sort of joy major leaguers are taught to suppress, lest it seem they're showing up the opponent -- is, of all things, tone deaf." If the WBC has been "an homage to anything, it's not the superiority of the baseball players from other countries," but rather "how much better their fans are than ours and how it works in beautiful symbiosis with their players." Passan: "American fans are boring. And players, too. Because we are." The "sterilization of American baseball crosses boundaries socioeconomic, racial, age and sex alike." It is "unfortunate America won't watch any of it, for the same reason America doesn't watch the World Series: Baseball is a parochial sport." Passan: "We love our teams more than we do the sport." Were people to "tune in, they'd see baseball can capture the dynamism of college basketball and football, our two sports that feel as much like a rock concert as they do a sporting event" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/17). ESPN’s Israel Gutierrez said of the WBC, “There’s an overwhelming passion for the game, one we’d be lucky to get in October around here” (“The Sports Reporters,” ESPN, 3/17). CBS Sports Network’s Gary Parrish said, “I never really felt the buzz about the World Baseball Classic. I just don’t know, in the middle of March Madness and the NBA season, how much this event actually matters to Americans” (“Lead Off,” CBS Sports Network, 3/15). NBC Sports Network’s Michelle Beadle: “Not even if they paid me to watch would I watch that” (“The Crossover,” NBC Sports Network, 3/15).
INTERNATIONAL APPEAL: In L.A., Bill Shaikin reported tonight's semifinal between the Netherlands and the Dominican Republic "will be televised in Holland, the first TV exposure there for the Netherlands team in this WBC" (L.A. TIMES, 3/17). In N.Y., Tyler Kepner notes Selig has "floated the idea of opening" an MLB season in Europe, and, "presumably, the Netherlands would be a candidate to host" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/18). In S.F., Bruce Jenkins writes there is a "soundtrack to the World Baseball Classic at its cultural finest, always a little bit different, rarely gone silent," and the city of S.F. "gets it." Of all the things that "went wrong with this tournament, here's one thing that didn't: the crucial bit of scheduling that landed a second-round pool" in Miami and the championship round in S.F. Jenkins: "Cherish the international game as we get this brief, three-day taste, for there is much to be appreciated" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 3/18).
WELCOME TO MIAMI: MLB Exec VP/Business Tim Brosnan said of Marlins Park, which hosted the WBC's second round, "If you had the opportunity to pick the right host for this mix of clubs you couldn't imagine a better ballpark in a better city. Miami, it's just got a real international flavor. That flavor loans itself to the tone and tenor of this being an international, global event." He added, "I think based on the performance that we're coming off of right now the sky is the limit for this stadium, for this franchise, for this city. ... We just couldn't be more pleased with the franchise, and the host city and the stadium. Could they be the host for the finals? The answer is absolutely.” Brosnan: "Our guys are working hard, too. The first credit goes to the Marlins for what's going on in Miami. They've done an unbelievable job from [President David] Samson on down" (SUN-SENTINEL.com, 3/16).