London is all the rage these days in professional sports. Since 2007, the NFL has been playing games in London. The NBA and NHL have also played in the city in an attempt to grow their brand. Major League Baseball has been aggressive in Latin America and Asia, two baseball hotbeds that also produce Major League talent. Europe, however, has been largely ignored. Until now.
Major League Baseball has announced that the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox will play two games in London in 2019 and it is one of the better ideas that MLB has had, certainly a lot better than flirting with starting extra-innings with a runner on second.
The Yankees and Red Sox are baseball’s greatest rivalry. Sorry to the San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals. Those are all great and storied rivalries but nothing beats the history of Yankees and Red Sox. Allowing British fans to get a taste of that rivalry would be a great way to jumpstart interest in the game in a country that loves its cricket.
Baseball has been slowly gaining in popularity in Europe. Several European countries field teams in the World Baseball Classic. There is also some talent starting to come from those countries.
The two-game series will be held in London Stadium which will hold 55,000 in its baseball configuration. The stadium will certainly be one of the more unique venues that baseball has been played in. London Stadium was constructed for the 2012 Summer Olympics and the stadium was the major venue for track and field as well as a few other events including the opening and closing ceremonies. It has since been renovated to accommodate the West Ham United Football Club.
This is a great move by Major League Baseball. London is only a five-hour flight from the New York area so it is similar to a trip to the West Coast for the ballplayers. The only thing that would have made this better was that it was a four-game series with each team getting a chance to be the home team for two games with perhaps an off day in between so that the players could make appearances around the city and further British interest in the game.
There is something fun to see baseball played in a new venue. The Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks played two games in Sydney, Australia. The Tokyo Dome has played host to eight games in recent years. Puerto Rico and Mexico have hosted games as well. The Atlanta Braves and Miami Marlins played a game at Fort Bragg in North Carolina and the past couple of years has seen MLB play a game at Williamsport, Penn. in the Little League Classic. There is something charming about baseball being played in new areas. It is kind of like the old days when players used to barnstorm but now it’s about growing their brand and making a mark as a global game instead of touring rural America to grow the game.
Hopefully this is the start of a new tradition. London is a great city and the British people are showing a growing interest in American sports, just as the English Premier League is growing its brand here in the states. It’s about time Major League Baseball went to Europe. Hopefully Rob Manfred and the rest of the MLB crew have more venues in mind in the future. As of right now, the plan is to play in London again in 2020. Sign me up.