MLB Hoping Successful London Series Leads To More Int'l Interest
The two-game Yankees-Red Sox series in London this weekend "marks perhaps the sport’s most dramatic step yet into the international arena, and it will not be the last," according to Ken Rosenthal of THE ATHLETIC. Dodgers President & CEO Stan Kasten, the head of MLB's Int'l Committee, last week said that clubs were "'gung-ho' about becoming even more aggressive internationally." Red Sox President & CEO Sam Kennedy, also a member of the committee, said, “You’re going to see baseball double down on these efforts in the next five to 10 years." MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred: "We want to grow and expand into areas where baseball is not being played. The best way to start that process is by taking games live, and I think we saw London as one of those opportunities." MLB Senior VP/Int'l Business Jim Small said that the goal is to "make the game relevant in Europe -- and worldwide." Rosenthal reported MLB's mission is "twofold -- to produce more players from Europe and, perhaps more important, to produce more fans." As MLB "demonstrates a greater commitment to Europe through events such as the London Series, officials believe the sport’s entry into the global marketplace will accelerate, making the game more socially acceptable in places where the game is largely unknown" (THEATHLETIC.com, 6/26).
COME & LEARN: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Diamond & Robinson noted most people in the U.K. "know next to nothing" about baseball, so MLB this weekend is "working to combat" that. A link to a "Baseball 101" web page was sent to "everybody in its London Series database." Additionally, concession stands at London Stadium will "sell portable radios so confused fans can listen to live explanations" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 6/26). In Boston, Dan Shaughnessy wrote MLB is "attempting to create buzz in a country where folks think Prince Fielder, Duke Snider, and Earl Weaver were Royals" (BOSTON GLOBE, 6/27). Red Sox P Rick Porcello, who is slated to start Saturday's game, noted he was "curious how the fans in London would react to their first MLB experience." He said, "Hopefully we put on a good show and they enjoy the game. That’s the most important part" (BOSTON HERALD, 6/27). In Boston, Jason Mastrodonato noted what makes the London Series "so appealing to those who do carry the torch for the sport in England is that finally, there’s some attention on the game of baseball" (BOSTON HERALD, 6/27).
MINI-AMERICA: In N.Y., David Waldstein notes London Series organizers are "working to give the games the flavor of a typical June series" in Boston or N.Y. There will be mascot races at the games, as organizers "wanted to add that particular slice of Americana." A Twitter vote was held to "determine Britain’s four most mascot-worthy figures." Making the list are Freddie Mercury, Winston Churchill, King Henry VIII and the Loch Ness Monster. While U.S. fans are "familiar with concessionaires wandering the stadium" selling food and drinks, the "idea of roving vendors in Britain are alien." So concessionaires for the series "went through a crash course led by a team of instructors from the United States to learn how to induce people to pay for food and drinks without ever leaving their seats" (N.Y. TIMES, 6/28). THE ATHLETIC's Rosenthal noted fans will be "treated to groundskeepers dancing to 'YMCA' the way they do at Yankee Stadium, and the ritual singing of 'Sweet Caroline' that takes place at Fenway Park." Also, "The Freeze" will "arrive from SunTrust Park in Atlanta to chase down some unsuspecting English fan in his trademark race along the warning track." Small said that the 700 volunteers working the event "will learn to sing, 'Take Me Out to the Ballgame,' and then lead fans in the seventh-inning stretch sing-along" (THEATHLETIC.com, 6/26).
GREAT BRITISH BALLPARK: USA TODAY's Bob Nightengale notes London Stadium's dimensions for the games will be an "absolute dream for hitters." There will be "more foul territory" than at any MLB park, and the foul lines are "just 330 feet away" from home plate. Straightaway center field is field "only 385 feet, the shortest distance of any park in baseball, but it includes a 16-foot-high wall" (USA TODAY, 6/28). MLB Official Field & Stadium Consultant Murray Cook said, "We’ve had to totally build the entire stadium as it relates to the playing field surface. Everything is temporary. You’ve got the foul poles, dugouts, back stops, batter’s eyes -- the works. ... We had to bring in 4,000 tons of material to put on top of the existing West Ham soccer pitch, then we covered it up with 40,000 square feet of turf and we brought clay in from the U.S." (“High Heat,” MLB Network, 6/25).
IN THE NUMBERS: SPORTS BUSINESS JOURNAL's Bill King reports in order for MLB to break even on the London Series, the two games "must generate enough revenue to buy out the two Red Sox home games and underwrite the cost to convert the stadium, as well as cover" about $3M in player costs. MLB would "not discuss specifics of its arrangement" with London promoter CSM Sport & Entertainment." However, on previous international trips, the league "negotiated guarantees from promoters, who then assumed most of the financial risk for the event." Along with tickets and local broadcast rights, event revenue "includes U.S. TV rights, which went to ESPN and Fox." Figures were "not disclosed, but international play is not included in MLB’s U.S. media deals" (SPORTS BUSINESS JOURNAL, 6/24 issue).