What an MLB series in London could mean for the state of baseball in Europe


London has long been a city for American sports to introduce themselves to highly passionate soccer fans. And if the MLB has its way, they will soon be following in the NFL and the NBA’s footsteps and play in Europe.

The New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox are reportedly closing in on an agreement that would allow them to play a two-game series during the regular season at London’s Olympic stadium in June 2019. The series, first reported by Bloomberg last week would allow baseball’s greatest rivalry to play out on the international stage.

In an email to the Associated Press, Red Sox owner John Henry said the potential series “is something the two clubs have discussed for years with MLB and hopefully it will become a reality.”

According to the details, which haven’t been finalized, each player would receive $60,000 for participating in the games. The series would take place after the conclusion of the Premier League season, which means more eyes could be on baseball rather than on soccer. As for a baseball stadium in a city where the sport isn’t played: the venue, a stadium built to host track and field for the 2012 Olympics, is wide enough to accommodate baseball dimensions.

It’s not the first time MLB teams have participated in regular season games outside the U.S. Previous season openers have been played in Mexico, Japan and most recently in 2014, in Australia.

Although those countries already have a following, the sport remains relatively under-the-radar in terms of commercial appeal compared to the NBA and NFL, both of which have attracted European fans over time.

Since the NFL began holding regular season games in London in 2007, beginning with the New York Giants and the Miami Dolphins, they have attracted large crowds of 80,000 or more. The upcoming NFL season will feature three regular season games in October at Wembley and Tottenham stadium.

Similarly, the NBA’s popularity in Europe has also been prominent, partially because basketball is played around the world. At the start of the 2017-18 season according to NBA.com, a record 64 European players were part of opening night rosters.

If the MLB plays its cards right and impresses the socks off Londoners, it could mean endless possibilities and perhaps becoming another “hot spot” for scouting future stars. The NFL had attempted to implement a scouting and training program in the past, with the now-defunct N.F.L. Europa, but it was never fully realized.

In fact, MLB has already made its blueprints at achieving that goal. The MLB European Elite Camp was established in 2005, where a select number of players from teams throughout the continent train with former major league players to improve their skills and attract the attention of MLB teams.

According to MLB.com, by 2015, just a decade after the program launched, 77 players from 14 countries had signed contracts. In that same year, the camp featured its first female baseball player, when then 16-year old French shortstop Melissa Mayeux made her debut and was added to MLB’s international registration list.  

Outside of the MLB Elite Camp, MLB scouts assigned to various countries have signed current Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius of the Netherlands and Minnesota Twins outfielder Max Kepler of Germany as amateur free agents.

While the interest in recruiting European players is there, major league officials still have a long way to go in enticing the audience to watch nine innings of baseball. If they can successfully market the rivalry between two of the oldest teams in the U.S. to U.K. fans and somehow liken it to Premier League ones, such as Manchester United and Arsenal, the popularity of the sport will be able to go nowhere but up.