The National Football League, for whatever reason, thinks playing a regular season game in Europe is a great idea. Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL, has said before he would like to play more games across the Atlantic Ocean, bringing more NFL teams to the continent in an effort to expand the game. It turns out Major League Baseball’s commissioner shares a similar dream.
“We must internationalize the sport,” MLB commissioner Bud Selig said on Wednesday in Miami, prior to the Miami Marlins opening the regular season on U.S. soil in new Marlins Park. “We have huge potential, but to do that you have to do things. One is to open your season [internationally].”
The regular season officially got underway last week when the Seattle Mariners and Oakland A’s played a series in Japan. The games played in Asia have always drawn well, especially when Asian stars like Ichiro Suzuki are involved. The drawback and where much criticism is directed, is the fact that baseball, long dubbed “America’s Pastime,” is kicking off outside of the country, and at times when live broadcasts are being shown between the hours of 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. to the fans of those teams. Of course, Selig says there is no reason to be too concerned with the drawbacks.
“Seattle loved being there,” the commissioner said. “I’ve heard from both clubs, they liked it. We did great, baseball in terms of internationalizing the sport. And I can assure you it won’t take away from any of the 30 openings we have that are taking place.”
Then things get interesting. Selig says it is his dream to open a season in Europe. Yes, Europe.
“My dream, frankly, I want to open up in Europe too,” Selig stated. “I want to do more of this.”
Fast forward to around the 1:20 mark in the video below (the jump), when Selig begins discussing the efforts to internationalize the game. About 20 seconds later Selig drops the Europe reference…
Major League Baseball in Europe? Call me skeptical.
“We’ve been talking about playing games in Europe for some time, and venues have been our biggest obstacle in getting that done,” Paul Archey, MLB’s vice president of international business operations, told MLB.com last week in Tokyo.
Do you have any idea why venues are hard to come by? Because Europe, for the most part, does not play or care about baseball. The counter-argument here is this is the reason MLB would like to branch in to Europe I suppose, but if baseball wants to do that they will have to take teams that will draw attention. Forget about pitting the Kansas City Royals and Baltimore Orioles in a European showdown. The only way to move in to Europe is by bringing your big-name franchises to the continent, such as the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. Europeans know these cities. They may not know the players, but at least it gives them something to identify with.
But could you imagine the backlash from moving a Yankees game, home or away, out of the country? In some cities the Yankees come to town once a year (if that), and for some clubs the best ticket sales of the year are when the Yankees come to town. The Phillies have been a pretty decent visiting team as well in recent years.
The problem MLB will have with expanding in to Europe is the fact that there are no Euopean players that draw any kind of attention. This is not the case in Japan, where a number of players have reached the majors and been successful. There is a reason the natives of Japan will flock around a TV in the streets of a town just to catch a glimpse of Ichiro or a Hideki Matsui or Hideo Nomo. They care. Do you think anyone is dropping what they are doing in Denmark to watch a Danny Cox or Lance Painter?
I don’t think so.
Hey, I’m all for expanding the game. But there are dreams, and there are pipedreams. Getting Europe to care about baseball is not worth the time, money, trouble or disappointment.