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 pitcher 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. MLB Senior VP/Int'l Operations Paul Archey said, "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. 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. The games will be televised live in 151 countries and more than 330 million TV households worldwide.
TRIBUTE TO COLLEGE PLAYER: MLB will honor Christopher Lane before Saturday's second Dodgers-D-Backs game at SCG. The Australian, who played college baseball in the U.S. at East Central University, was shot and killed while jogging along a road in the small town of Duncan, Okla., last August. MLB told SBD Global that it invited Lane's family to Sunday's game, where the league will have a special recognition on the field prior to the game. Two of the three teenagers accused of the crime have been ordered to stand trial on first-degree murder charges. The third one has turned state's witness in the hope he will have his charge downgraded. A date for the trial has not been set yet (HJ Mai, SBD Global).
Ukraine "has given up the hosting rights for next year's European basketball championship due to its political and financial situation but would like to stage Eurobasket 2017," according to REUTERS. Tournament Dir Markiyan Lubkivsky said, "I cannot imagine how to carry out preparations in the current severe economic and political conditions. ... It is obvious our country cannot afford to support private investors building the arenas or fund preparations that we are responsible for. Moreover, the local organizing committee feels (there is a) lack of time." Ukraine is ready, however, to ask FIBA if the country could instead stage the Eurobasket 2017, "the hosting of which is in tune with the state's strategy of forging closer ties with Europe" (REUTERS, 3/19). The AP reported Ukraine was awarded the biennial 24-team championship in Dec. '11. The tournament "would have been played in five Ukrainian cities" (AP, 3/19). France has offered to host the 2015 tournament instead (SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, 3/19).
The Bavarian state government "has provided its backing for Munich's bid as a host city for Euro 2020," according to DIE WELT. The state government "has provided the city and the German Football Federation (DFB) with wide-ranging guarantees for their Euro 2020 bid." Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann said on Tuesday that the state "has committed itself to provide game security, traffic control and other police duties." Referencing the 2006 World Cup and the 2012 Champions League final in Munich, Herrmann said, "Both large events have proved that Bavaria has outstanding host qualities." Euro 2020 will be played across Europe in 13 different countries (DIE WELT, 3/18).
Brazil has secured a $7.2M deal with U.S.-based iRobot, a company that "makes defence and security robots for the American military," according to the IANS. The company will create 30 robots called PackBots "tasked with protecting and monitoring 12 cities" during the World Cup. The robots are "pre-programmed to analyse suspicious looking objects." They will "start monitoring from June" in the run-up to the World Cup. Each "robot can fit in a backpack, reach up to nine miles per hour whilst traversing all kinds of terrain and can travel in water up to two metres deep." PackBot's other attributes include a "state-of-the-art GPS, video image display, system monitoring, electronic compass and temperature sensors." The PackBot system debuted in '02 in Afghanistan (IANS, 3/19).
MILITARY AIRPORTS AVAILABLE: The AFP reported Brazil Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo said that the country will make its military airports "available for the team planes of the World Cup participants." Rebelo: "If team delegations use military airports, this will take a lot of pressure off civil airports." Rebelo called "predictions of chaos at Brazilian airports during the World Cup 'nightmare prophecies.'" He pointed out that during recent Carnival celebrations in Rio de Janeiro and Salvador, "those cities hosted approximately twice as many tourists as they will welcome during the World Cup" (AFP, 3/18).
The organizers of the WTA tournament in Stuttgart, Germany "have criticized the Australian tennis federation for the event's scheduling conflict with the Fed Cup semifinal," according to the SID. The Porsche Tennis Grand Prix is scheduled for April 21-27. The Fed Cup semifinal between Germany and Australia will take place in Brisbane on April 19-20. Stuttgart Operating Tournament Dir Anke Huber said, "We hoped that we could play on Friday and Saturday. But the federation didn't want that. Maybe they thought it would keep some German players from traveling to Australia." The German Tennis Federation (DTB) "even tried to buy the hosting rights from the Australian federation" because German Fed Cup players Angelique Kerber and Sabine Lisicki "draw top crowds at the tournament in Stuttgart" (SID, 3/19).
The U.S.'s PGA Tour "has pledged to stay in China for the long haul after taking the bold step of setting up a domestic circuit offering players a new route to the top level, including the Olympic Games," according to the AFP. In a move "that could have a big impact on mainland golf, and even the sport's future, the newly established PGA Tour China will roll out 12 events this year." PGA Tour VP Greg Gilligan, the body's managing director for Greater China, said that "the tour also had plans to expand to Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau, and perhaps even farther afield in Asia if successful on the mainland." But Hong Kong Golf Association CEO Tom Phillips said that "was news to him." Phillips: "It's the first I have heard of it. We have had no formal communication with the PGA Tour." The PGA Tour had been considered late to make a move in Asia, and it was not until last year that "it held its first fully sanctioned event in the region, the CIMB Classic in Malaysia." But it has now "stolen a march by offering China's players a route to the PGA Tour while gaining valuable exposure for its brand in the country" (AFP, 3/19).