Major League Baseball recently followed the lead of the NFL by staging regular season games in London when the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox played a two-game series at the venue of the 2012 Olympic Games.
Now the home of Premier League soccer club West Ham and renamed the London Stadium, the arena nevertheless provided similar levels of drama experienced during those Olympics seven years ago.
Attracting sell-out crowds on both days – equating to around 120,000 spectators – MLB’s first regular season game in Europe turned out to be remarkable. A 17-13 win for the Yankees, which featured 37 hits, six home runs and 12 runs scored in the first inning alone, set the tone.
Such was the anomaly of Game 1, Yankees manager Aaron Boone warned the spectators – many of whom would have been experiencing their first live baseball game – that “there’s not 30 runs every game”.
While not quite replicating the fireworks of Game 1, Game 2 still provided a fine advert of Major League Baseball as the with a come-from-behind 12-8 win. The sweep not only ensured the Yankees get one over on their great rivals, but also solidified their status as one of the leading contenders for the World Series, according to .
How the bosses at MLB headquarters must have breathed a collective sigh of relief that the first foray to Europe has been a success and has given the organization a great footing to continue to increase the MLB’s presence across the UK and continental Europe.
Yet, MLB must continue to press forward and find ways to continuously improve the user experience if they are to achieve sustained success on the other side of the Atlantic. It would be far too easy to point to the sell-out crowds and entertaining games and think ‘job done’.
There are many ways in which MLB can and should focus their efforts to continue spreading the game. First of all, the sell-out crowd is not exactly a guarantee of future success. As the first of its kind, played between the two most famous teams and being held in London, these games were always going to attract a capacity crowd – in a combination of genuine baseball fans and the curious keen for a new experience.
Can the MLB depend on the novelty factor to carry them forward? Perhaps they could, but that would be missing the entire point of their trip to London in the first place.
Attracting new fans is all about engagement, so the first thing MLB need to do ahead of next year’s series is to release a batch of affordable tickets. With the cheapest seats going for around $82, many potential fans are simply priced out of experiencing a ball game for the first time.
By making a couple thousand tickets available through school initiatives or charitable organizations, these games would attract a greater range of people.
The other key area MLB should look at ahead of 2020 is engagement in the community and spending more time in the UK before the games. Of course, the MLB season is ridiculously hectic and relentless, but if Cubs and Cardinals players were able to travel the country a bit more, host coaching clinics at schools and get more people intrigued about the game, it will only produce long-term benefits.
The MLB has made an encouraging start in Europe. They must now use this as a starting point and continue to spread the word.