Will Major League Baseball hit a home run with their London Series?


Baseball is a sport that has unconsciously permeated into the British consciousness; the term 'home run' is common parlance and baseball hats representing various franchises are common headgear across the UK. However, despite knowing 'it’s a bit like rounders', the intricacies of the sport remain a mystery to the average Brit. Major League Baseball, or MLB, are hoping this will change when they bring baseball to the London Olympic Stadium in June 2019.

Although this is not the first time MLB has ventured beyond North America, with games having being played in Mexico, Japan and Australia, the London Series is likely to surpass any previous overseas events in both size and status.

Take the eminence of the teams for example. In one dugout are the reigning 'World Champions', the Boston Red Sox, who have nine World Series Titles overall and are owned by the Fenway Sports Group, who also own Liverpool F.C. The Red Sox consistently have the largest travelling support in the league and count Mark Wahlberg and Matt Damon amongst their fans. The team is not only a central pillar of Bostonians' lives but is also an iconic global brand, valued by Forbes at $2.8 billion in 2018.

However, the Red Sox are dwarfed in terms of brand power by the New York Yankees, who will be in the other dugout. Valued at $4 billion, the Yankees are the most valuable baseball franchise, and fifth most valuable sports team, in the world. The 'Bronx Bombers' are also the most successful franchise in MLB history with 27 World Series championships, which incidentally also earns them the appellation of most successful franchise in all four of the major North American Sports leagues.  The Yankee's iconic pin-stripe uniform and NY logo transcend baseball with one of their most famous fans, rapper Jay-Z, frequently mentioning them in his lyrics.

If it wasn't enough to have two of the biggest teams in baseball playing in London, they also happen to be two of the fiercest rivals in sport, comparable to the rivalry between Manchester United and Liverpool. The Yankee's behemoth status has earned them the epithet the 'Evil Empire' amongst Red Sox fans whilst Yankee fans will be desperate to see their team beat a lauded Red Sox line-up.  

Those lucky enough to get tickets will also see the very best baseball players grace the field at the Olympic Stadium. Both teams have an embarrassment of talent to choose from but each has an epochal talisman. For the Red Sox this is Mookie Betts, voted the most valuable player in the MLB last year and the recipient of a 'silver slugger' (awarded to the best offensive player in each position). Meanwhile the Yankee's have Aaron Judge, a 6'7, 20 stone gargantuan who broke the record for most home runs in a 'rookie' season and wouldn't look out of place on a rugby pitch.

The MLB have also pulled out all the stops to ensure the fan experience, a fundamental element to any American Sport, is as authentic as possible in London.  On top of all the usual pageantry expected at American Sport events, such as the national anthems and a Ceremonial First Pitch, the games will officially be Red Sox 'home games', meaning as the games reach the 7th innings, the traditional 'Take Me Out To The Ball Game' will be sung. The famous 'Fenway Hotdogs' (Fenway being the Red Sox's home stadium) will also be on sale alongside the plethora of fast food often associated with our cousins across the pond. Even the Olympic Stadium itself is being reconfigured to give it the essence of a baseball stadium, with seats being re-arranged and the changing rooms re-designed.

In sum, this two game series is the very best baseball has to offer. So why are the MLB going to all this effort? Although difficult to quantify, the British Sports market can be conservatively valued at £20 billion, with some estimates considerably more. The UK is a lucrative honeypot with a sport mad populous who are increasingly open to switching allegiances from 5 day Test cricket matches which end in a draw to the high-octane, engrossing experience which American Sport provides.  However, the MLB are late to the British party; the NFL played their first league game in London in 2007 with the NBA following suit in 2011. So although this is the first MLB series we will see played in London, I very much doubt it will be the last.

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