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Volume 21 No. 43
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WBC revenue set to push past $100 million

Total revenue for the World Baseball Classic will exceed $100 million for the first time in event history as ticket sales and sponsorships are both on the uptick.

The fourth installment of the WBC, set to start March 6 and conclude March 22 in Los Angeles, is poised for growth across several top-line measures. Overall event revenue, according to industry sources, is projected to approach $110 million, representing a low double-digit percentage increase from the 2013 event.

WBC co-owners MLB and the MLB Players Association last week announced an extensive series of corporate sponsors including a quartet of global partners including Swiss watch brand Hublot and Japanese companies Nippon Express, Nomura Securities, and GungHo Online Entertainment.

Ticket sales are also tracking ahead of 2013’s record draw of 885,212. Miami’s early-round pool at Marlins Park involving the U.S. team, Canada, defending WBC champions from the Dominican Republic, and Colombia, one of four pool-play groupings, itself has approached 130,000 tickets pre-sold so far.

Executives with the league and union acknowledge that the WBC’s 2017 success will be tied in part to the fortunes of the U.S. team, which in the first three iterations of this event has produced just one semifinal berth and two early-round exits, in turn dulling domestic fan excitement. Attendance and secondary market ticket demand for the 2013 semifinals and finals in San Francisco in particular sagged to event lows after the American team bowed out in the second round.

“If the U.S. does better, it will wake up a lot of people and bring this event to a different level,” said Tim Slavin, MLBPA chief of business affairs.

The Dominican Republic, 2013’s champion, is helping drive ticket sales for the Miami site.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES

MLB Network again holds exclusive U.S. English-language broadcast rights to the WBC, representing the outlet’s most prominent content rights outside of its portion of the annual MLB postseason schedule. And network President Rob McGlarry similarly said the American team performance will be an influential factor.

“It’s not exactly a news flash that our ratings will do better if the U.S. team plays well. That said, I do believe there will be strong interest from fans, regardless of how well the U.S. team plays, in seeing the best players in the world,” McGlarry said. “This is also something that tracks a bit outside of our normal audience and generates a more diverse viewership.”

With that in mind, MLB Network will be treating the WBC much like an All-Star Game or playoff contest, including a series of on-site pregame and postgame shows for the semifinals and championship game.

Much like prior World Baseball Classics, the 2017 tournament will go forward without several of the sport’s brightest stars, including Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw and Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout, who declined to participate. But MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has made club-level support of the event and broad player participation in the WBC key priorities of his early tenure. As a result, the injury concerns expressed around prior tournaments have not been as prominent this time around, aided in part by a new designated pitcher pool that will allow teams to cycle some pitchers in and out of rounds of competition.

The 16 team rosters, meanwhile, are widely acknowledged as the deepest and most balanced in the WBC’s short history. Even without superstars such as Kershaw and Trout involved, the 2017 WBC will feature 63 former All-Stars, including 25 from last year.

“We probably have our biggest number of teams with a viable chance to win this thing,” said Chris Park, MLB senior vice president of growth, strategy and international.

That could run counter to the notion of the U.S. needing to perform well for the tournament to reach its maximum business potential. But Park added, “we’re really still in the early innings of developing the brand around this.”

The 2017 WBC also will feature two first-time tournament venues at the newly developed Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, South Korea, and the Estadio Charros de Jalisco in Guadalajara, Mexico.

“These are a couple of key international markets for us, and having those venues and host cities involved, and the kind of continued facility development and talent development we’ve seen in areas such as these are really encouraging signs for us,” Park said.