Will Yankees-Red Sox in London break the NFL’s UK stranglehold?

first_imgFor the loyal legions of night-shift workers, breastfeeding moms, drunk university students and the broader sleep-deprived fanbase who watched with us back then, and who continue to follow the sport today on MLB.tv, the build-up begins immediately.And while our love and support for the game is unquestioned, we alone can’t fill up London Stadium, a venue capable of occupying a daunting 55,000 spectators for baseball. So now MLB’s promotional arm will be out to entice Brits who at present believe baseball is nothing more than a ballyhooed version of rounders, and that the World Series is a cheeky title for what’s falsely perceived as an American-only sport.Is it too late for baseball to make gains in the UK, where the NFL has enjoyed far more success than MLB.“I’ve heard this rumor for almost 20 years,” Gould says. “I’ve watched with sadness as MLB talked a good game, long before their NFL and NHL and NBA counterparts got in on the act, but never delivered. I will be the first to buy the most expensive seat behind home plate.”Gould is right to lament MLB’s missed opportunities to establish their product through live games in the UK.The NFL began regularly filling up Wembley and Twickenham with regular-season games in 2007, several years after those rumors of MLB coming to the capital to play games at the Oval first surfaced. Damaging the pitch, shoehorning games into a crowded county and Test cricket calendar and a relatively small overall capacity were just a few of the reasons baseball never materialized. Instead, fans settled for clumsy, rinky-dink promotional events such as Sammy Sosa’s visit to south London.The sport did see some daylight in 2005 when London was awarded the Olympics, meaning that Great Britain would be granted automatic entry to the Olympic baseball tournament and the sport would have received vital grassroots funding. But baseball and softball were voted out of the Olympic program that same year, crushing the dreams of local players, fans and its local governing body, BaseballSoftballUK.Now MLB, thanks to a venue that’s spacious enough to accommodate baseball, can begin playing catch up, and anyone who believes Manfred is looking for a one-off payday should consider just who’s coming to town.Baseball could have easily brought clubs like the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland A’s overseas for novelty value. Instead, the bluebloods who make up baseball’s most storied rivalry, the Yankees and the Red Sox, have been persuaded into giving up a home game in what is always a sell-out in Boston and a tougher-than-usual ticket in the Bronx. It also doesn’t hurt that both teams have connections to the UK: Boston’s parent company owns Liverpool FC while the Yankees have a working partnership with Manchester City.Winning hearts, minds and highly desired long-term growth in the competitive British and European market is doable, but the degree of difficulty is slightly higher. Reuse this content MLB Since you’re here… The NFL had a larger UK fan base to start with, thanks to its beloved Channel 4 coverage and nine exhibition contests during the 1980s and 90s: games that brought stars such as Eric Dickerson, Walter Payton and William ‘Refrigerator’ Perry to Wembley. So when the NFL’s International Series began in 2007, there was already a strong sense of nostalgia that could be handed down from fathers to sons.When it comes to the presence of North American sports in the UK, the NFL is the gold standard, packing out London venues every year. Its limited regular-season of 16 contests means every game is an event, while the sport is suited to British TV schedules, with a host of games starting on Sunday evenings UK time.Baseball, on the other hand has 162 games, most of which start at midnight or later in the UK. Is this an issue? In short, no.The NBA, already enormously successful globally, has been using London as its European gateway since 2011, with the latest game coming back in January between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers. Like MLB, the NBA also has a lengthy regular season with most games tipping off overnight. But that didn’t stop the league from selling out the O2 Arena within an hour and attracting a respectable television audience in a country where basketball, like baseball, is a niche sport.And bringing over the Yankees to get the ball rolling in the UK makes sense. After a brief rebuilding period they’re World Series contenders once more with bona fide star power in Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge, to say nothing of the familiar interlocking NY logo that is regularly spotted on London streets, even if those wearing it don’t always know the team it represents. That’s what MLB are out to change.It helps that the games will be played after the conclusion of the Premier League season and right before Wimbledon during a summer between the 2018 World Cup and Euro 2020. The timing is right and the product is there: there’s no reason why curious sports fans can’t combine with the existing base, expats and North Americans out to kick-start their summer vacation with an exotic baseball road trip to fill up London Stadium twice, giving MLB impetus to bring the Grand Old Game back to Blighty well beyond the current two-game commitment. 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Thank you.center_img Manchester City Baseball New York Yankees For the tightly knit baseball community scattered throughout the UK and Ireland, Tuesday’s announcement from Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred and London mayor Sadiq Khan was as big as it gets: the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox will play a pair of regular-season games at London’s Olympic Stadium in June 2019.For folks like myself, co-hosts Jonny Gould, Josh Chetwynd and others who passionately represented the sport on Channel Five’s baseball coverage from 1997 to 2008, the chance to finally see America’s national pastime on British soil is a champagne moment. Share via Email Yankees and Red Sox brawl at Fenway after New York player gets hit by pitch Share on Messenger Support The Guardian Red Sox and Yankees confirmed to meet in London MLB games Share on Pinterest Share on Twitter Topics Share on LinkedInlast_img

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