WBC TV, sponsorships show growth
Two successful tournaments already in the books and a third on the cusp, and the World Baseball Classic is still fighting for mainstream acceptance, even within the game itself.
|The World Baseball Classic will feature big names from MLB, though talk again centers on players who have decided not to play.
The MLB Network, which had just hit the airwaves during the last tournament and aired 16 WBC games, now stands as the exclusive U.S. English-language broadcaster of the event and will deliver nearly round-the-clock coverage. ESPN will have its own push as the domestic Spanish-language broadcaster, airing each WBC game again on ESPN Deportes and two games in Spanish on ESPN2. On the social media front, MLB has created a global, tournament-themed version of its successful Fan Cave.
But like the first two versions of the WBC in 2006 and 2009, much of the early public focus has been on who is and isn’t playing, and the tournament’s delicate, oft-debated relationship to MLB’s regular season.
To be certain, there is plenty of star power represented on the WBC teams, including Detroit third baseman Miguel Cabrera, the 2012 Triple Crown winner, who will play for Venezuela, and Milwaukee outfielder Ryan Braun and Minnesota catcher Joe Mauer, also former MLB most valuable players, leading Team USA.
|WBC partners: regional sponsor BBVA and MetLife, one of four global partners
“The issue with the players is always going to be a challenge. You’re never going to be at 100 percent in terms of getting who you want,” said Paul Archey, MLB senior vice president of international business.
“But overall, I’m really pleased. There’s a lot of legit star power involved. We recognize the issues with where this is on the calendar, but we’ve done a number of things like announcing the rosters a little earlier and having players stay in camp with their clubs longer to make all this easier for everybody involved,” Archey said.
In an attempt to separate fact from rumor or legend, MLB also researched and publicly released the injury rates of participants from the 2006 and 2009 tournaments and found they were less likely in those years to be placed on the disabled list than MLB players overall. The league, as a co-owner and co-operator of the tournament with the MLB Players Association, has a vested interest in placing the WBC in the best possible light, but the study represented its effort to let facts inform the debate.
“We want the players to make the call on this. They know their bodies best,” said Tim Slavin, MLBPA director of business affairs and senior counsel for business. “Do we encourage them to be involved? Sure. But ultimately, it’s a player’s call, and we had many guys actively lobbying, wanting to be on the list.”
Beyond the players, perhaps the biggest change to the 2013 WBC is the arrival of Brazil and Spain to the final field of 16, replacing Panama and South Africa. In the case of Brazil specifically, managed by hall of famer Barry Larkin, its 1-0 qualifying victory over Panama on Nov. 19 has been described as one of the most dramatic games ever in international baseball. Brazil’s participation is likely to help expand the game in an important, populous country where historically it has not had a major profile.
“This is a great thing for baseball. This is a sport that hasn’t resonated there traditionally,” said Lino Garcia, ESPN Deportes general manager.
Nine of the 16 participants — the Dominican Republic, Japan, Mexico, Venezuela, Canada, China, Chinese Taipei, Korea and Puerto Rico — will have sponsor logos on their helmets, uniforms or both during the tournament, again opening a realm of activation that has been largely resisted in American pro sports.