“I don’t take for granted that (this is) a special treat,” Cubs manager David Ross told MLB.com. “We get to go to a cool venue in London and have fun and play a rivalry game over there in front of fans who don’t get to experience baseball. That’s good for our game, that’s good for us, that’s good for our young guys, that’s a good experience.”
The sports media market is no less congested in the United Kingdom than it is here, which left MLB with a choice on how to market its offering. The best way, and the one it seems to have mostly followed, is to remain as authentic as possible.
American football has proven popular in the UK not because of supposed similarities between gridiron and rugby, but because it was pitched as its own unique thing. And partly because, not in spite of, the fact that the game is intrinsically American.
Just as so many Americans are avowed Anglophiles, enjoying everything from the Royal Family to Harry Styles to Premier League soccer and, yep, posh accents, so too do swarms of young and not-so-young Britons love the Kardashians (help), Beyonce, the NFL and Five Guys.
Baseball has avoided the trap of positioning itself as a replacement or alternative for the time-honored English pastime, cricket, and is being itself. While baseball is a small-time participation sport in Britain, with only around 60 clubs in the entire country, there is no reason why it can’t find some traction as an occasional viewing spectacle in London and deeper into Europe.
Old-school arguments about why certain nations haven’t adopted certain sports were long ago proven to be nonsense. Remember when you could constantly hear the aside that “Americans don’t like soccer?” How’d that work out?
When the NFL first went to London, more than one skeptic insisted Brits “wouldn’t ‘get’ American football.” More than 30 highly attended games later, this stands as another fallacy.
With baseball, one thing we can be sure of is that there won’t be talk of an expansion team across the pond any time soon, as the realities of a 162-game schedule would make so many trans-Atlantic flights an incurable headache.
More importantly, the thing to remember with such enterprises is that growth doesn’t all happen at once. It comes from showcasing the best of your product, and a storied Midwest rivalry is a meaningful way to do it. It is part of a process, as voiced by Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright, for whom playing in London will be a memorable part of his final season before retirement.
“Growing the sport is the goal of this whole thing,” Wainwright said. “Hopefully I get to help with that, and we leave with a whole bunch of new fans.