Russell Eassom’s Musings: The Future of MLB in London

For the third time, MLB’s world tour hit London, and according to most boots on the ground here in the UK, it was the best yet.

MLB, the teams, the players and the fans all provided something unique to make the event so memorable, but unfortunately, we won’t see MLB in London next year. We always knew that this was the case, but we won’t even see MLB in Europe at all next year. 

The plan in the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) was to go to Paris in 2025 and expand the influence of MLB in Europe, but issues have forestalled these efforts and fans across the continent will have to wait until 2026 when a two-game weekend will once again return to London and the Olympic Stadium.

What lies beyond is unknown as MLB and the players union (MLBPA) have to re-negotiate the CBA for 2027 onward, but given the responses from everyone so far, it seems that the likelihood of this continuing is high.

“Jump on the wagon. C’mon! We’ll take everybody. I don’t care where you’re from, who you are, what you do, I’ll take anybody you got! You wanna wear Phillies stuff, you’re part of our family, part of Philadelphia. Just make sure you show up,”

Bryce Harper (speaking to reporters after Game One)

Rob Thomson – Phillies Manager

Rob Manfred – MLB Commissioner

The true question is what is the format for the games?

What lies in the future?

NFL first came to the UK in 2007 and had one game per year up to 2012 before a multi-game deal was sorted. We will have had four weekend series by the time this new CBA is being negotiated. And it’s worth considering if there is more MLB can do in London or if the current format is the best for now.

Option 1 – Same again, please

Currently, we get a two-game series: Saturday and Sunday games, with the teams having the Thursday and Friday before off and subsequent Monday off. Effectively this is one or two more off days than normal, which teams will have to eat up at other points of the season. It’s been shown that it works especially for the teams with the most passionate fan bases.

That being said, we’ve been having rival series, and while these have been good, they are going to run out eventually, and MLB is going to have to come up with something else to make the weekends feel special.

Option 2 – Can we have some more?

What we could do, though, is keep the teams here for longer, make the travel seem like less of a trip, and even out the off days. These series could become a three-game or even a four-game series, with games happening on Friday and/or Monday evening. These extra games might not get full houses like the others.

I like this for two main reasons. Firstly, with the extra games would give MLB the opportunity to lower the prices for the weekday games which would give more people a chance to watch and learn about baseball in the UK. Secondly, it just feels more like MLB. A two-game stand always felt a bit off to me. A three or four-game series just feels more traditional.

Option 3 -Three’s company

Having said that the same teams playing each other a few more times might not get the level of attraction MLB (and the players) are looking for, another option is to bring more teams over.  But unlike the NFL games in the UK, there’s a lot of preparation required to get the London Olympic Stadium ready for MLB games, and it would cost a lot to keep the stadium ready and used for separate teams to turn up the weekend afterwards. 

What I’m suggesting is the staggering of three teams playing so that two teams each play one series here, and the third team plays them both. Something like the following

A v BA v BA v BA v BOFFOFFB v CB v CB v C

This means that you get more games and teams should feel like they are getting more used to playing over here. Lots more games and lots more logistics to sort out, but it’s a way to show that more is possible.

For both of the last two options above, people might suggest that home fans in the States might be upset losing three or four home games, but that is still less than 5% of their home games, which doesn’t really bother me.

Option 4 – The nuclear option

What if we could have more games within a shorter time period? I give you my answer to the Emirates NBA Cup, the newly minted MLB Cup (sponsorship pending).

This is a two-week-long tournament which will replace the All-Star break and give the opportunity for MLB games to be worldwide whilst it is going on. 

  • Group format
    • Six groups of five teams (three for each league)
    • Draw based on last year’s records
    • Doubleheaders each day. All hosted in one location over a five-day span, like the World Baseball Classic (WBC)
    • All group games still count towards the regular season record
  • Knockout Format
    • Group winners and the highest other record for each league go to the knockout stage
    • Single elimination from quarters to the finals
    • Player bonus and draft picks for winners to incentivise participation

What this gives us is a tournament that needs six locations to host 10 games each over five days, and these locations can be all over the world. They could be in the US or they could send some of them to locations around the world like they do with the WBC. Personally I’d do it so you’d have either all the groups of one of the leagues playing abroad and the other all playing domestically and then alternate each year.

With this sort of tournament happening, London as well as any other major city in the world, could look to host a part of the tournament. It would be awesome to have five different teams over at the same time. The possibilities of the players doing things with the local media and clubs on their off days are very enticing for me.

For me, the likeliest scenario still seems like, Option 1, a repeat of what we’ve seen for a few more years, and then we might see some expansion towards the end of the CBA. But boy would I love to see something crazy like an MLB Cup.

So, there are four options as I see them. What’s your favourite or have I missed any that you can think of?

Featured image of Bryce Harper by by Alex Pantling/Getty Images

Article by Russell Eassom. Arguably the greatest baseball analytical mind this side of the Atlantic, Russell presented a paper at the SABR Analytics Conference in 2020 on a metric he created called SOPF (Strength of Player Faced) and then in 2023, he was invited to cast the World Series MVP vote in Phoenix on behalf of the British media. If you’re not following Russell on Twitter X, then you’re doing baseball wrong.

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