Here’s Tom Pringle with the right approach. And a warning for Commissioner Manfred…
In October 2007, the Miami Dolphins hosted the New York Giants at Wembley Stadium in London, for the first regular season NFL game to ever be hosted outside the United States. This was the beginning of the NFL’s International Series, a series that has since grown to three games in the UK and a game in Mexico for 2016/17 season. This process has been a long and delicate one, masterfully played by the NFL, ensuring that ticket sales and publicity are strong for every single game. No matter the teams playing.
In January 2016, the Commissioner of Major League Baseball announced he was “hopeful” of playing regular season baseball games in London by 2017. This wouldn’t be the first time MLB had played it’s regular season games outside the United States, but it would be the first time the league played on British soil. It’s exciting times for all British baseball fans, but there are a few key points Commissioner Manfred has to iron out before the first pitch is tossed.
During his announcement in January, the Commissioner stressed the point it would not be an opening day fixture.
“I don’t think it will be an opener because of the weather issues. It would be later in the season.”
Makes sense, so when would be the best time to make the journey and play? A perfect place in the schedule would be prior to the All-Star break. This allows players to rest and take their time returning to the US once the game is complete, unless of course they are involved in All-Star duties. But even if they are, the 2017 All-Star game takes place in Miami. The flight time from London to Miami is approximately nine hours and 20 minutes. I’ve had longer car journeys.
The Commissioner has already mentioned the Olympic Stadium as the possible venue for the game. The stadium’s dimensions mean it will fit the field, benches, support areas, media boxes and its planned attendance of 50,000 should be easy enough to fill, with the right marketing. The disadvantage of the Olympic Stadium is the sort of thing that plagues all modern day stadiums. It’s lifeless, it doesn’t have character, it’s lacking quirks and beautiful architecture.
When Major League Baseball visited Australia in 2014, the game was played at Sydney Cricket Ground. It’s a fantastic stadium, with beautiful buildings, meaning we were left with superb and evocative images. A perfect UK location, if the field dimensions work, would be Lord’s, the ‘Home of Cricket’ and one of the world’s most picturesque sporting venues. The drawback of Lord’s is its capacity, at only 30,000 – it would be a real shame if more wanted to watch the game live. However, if they go with the Olympic Stadium and only have it 70% full, it will look a damn sight worse than a 70% full Lord’s.
Commissioner Manfred was quick to say no teams have been decided for the possible fixture. It is unlikely a divisional rivalry would be taken from the US and dropped into the UK. So forget it Red Sox and Yankees fans, they both won’t be coming over. But that’s not to say we wouldn’t be receiving either team. The choice of teams will be vital to the success of the game. The NFL picked the Giants and Dolphins as their first two teams, two highly backed teams in the UK. The equivalent in baseball would probably be the Dodgers and Yankees.
Unless a West Coast team is playing on the East Coast prior to the London game, it would more than likely be two East coast teams playing here. The Red Sox, Chicago Cubs and Yankees should be involved, they are the three highest supported teams in the UK. It pains me to say it but for the sake of this game working, it has to be the Yankees coming over, the pull that famous NY logo has is huge. Their opponents need to be good enough to not make the game a washout, but not an “unknown” team. They should also be a National League team for reasons revealed later. If we want big names hitting home runs and a potential pitching battle, we need the Chicago Cubs. Kris Bryant Vs the Yankees, the Yankees Vs Jake Arrieta, we need this game.
Australia had a series of two games in 2014, so we should have a series of two games too. With it being an American League and National League battle, we have an opportunity to have the DH and no DH. This presents another opportunity to spread the rules of the game and the differences between the two leagues, helping to develop an understanding for those coming into the game for the first time.
MLB needs to hit the widest audience it can within the UK. They should follow the NFL’s lead on this, work with the terrestrial channels to ensure US games that season are shown for free. If the BBC and Channel 4 had the NFL for so long, they could also have MLB. It might not bring in the most amount of money that year, but it will open up the market to those who might be interested in buying a ticket for the London game.
MLB also need to work with the fan base currently in the UK. There will be those who have moved to the UK and love baseball, but there are also UK nationals who love the game as well. Twitter, Facebook, blogs likes ours: embrace them all, involve them all, make these guys the experts on the game. Publish their articles, use them for radio, television, podcasts, every medium available.
Do not follow the lead of some outlets and they way they treat the NFL when it’s in London. Dumbing down the game and constantly comparing it to rugby.
Legacy is a fairly overused term in the modern area of sports, but it’s a key part of this potential game. Commissioner Manfred has to be convinced the interest will grow after the game has taken place, otherwise the event is a waste of time and money. They have to give offers for MLB.tv, hand out free bobble heads or caps like they do in the US, bring their coaches to our schools, colleges, universities to help introduce young people to the game and ultimately have complete buy-in from the teams and players. Only then will the game have a lasting impact on out Great British nation.
The NFL has embraced the international series, which has seen its already powerful brand become common place in the UK. No longer do the majority of people in the UK shun the NFL as “rugby with pads”, there is a real understanding of the game and more people are playing or getting involved at a local level. The rumours of a UK NFL franchise will not go away as long as the international series continues to be a success. Due to the length of the baseball season, there will never be a UK baseball franchise in my lifetime, but baseball has a real chance to impact the UK market hard. They must grasp this opportunity with both hands and ensure the prior planning and legacy are locked in before they board those aircraft and make the 8 hour flight to our shores.
Please bring your game to the UK Commissioner Manfred, but if you’re not willing to buy in to a lasting legacy, don’t bother.