On March 30th of this year, Major League Baseball announced a new international concept as part of their past promise of expanding the game into the global marketplace. Introducing Home Run Derby X, a modified home run derby contest that is meant to represent the finest of the league. Within the competition, four of MLB’s oldest teams (Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, Dodgers) are represented by a former MLB star, a female softball/baseball player, a prospect, and a so-called “Wild Card” baseball content creator. For any professional sports league, the purpose of these events is to permeate an untapped market of potential consumers. In their press release, MLB stated, "Inspired by the success and simplicity of the Home Run Derby the day before the MLB All-Star Game, Home Run Derby X has been developed to attract a new audience to baseball; creating high-energy live event experiences and opportunities for digital storytelling." Moving beyond just London, Home Run Derby X will continue a world tour, with stops in Seoul and Mexico City. Major League Baseball hopes to use Home Run Derby X as a means of growing the game by exposing foreign fans to a baseball adjacent game that is packed with excitement and action. Ideally for the league, fans will be inspired by the spectacle of a game in their own country and begin spending their entertainment dollars on the league’s product.
While Homerun Derby X is the most recent display of MLB Globalism, this event represents a single mark of Major League Baseball’s foray into international markets that began in the 1990s. In August of 1996, the New York Mets and San Diego Padres met for a three-game series in Monterrey’s Estadio de Beisbol. The series began with a made-for-TV feel, as Mexico’s greatest Major Leaguer, Fernando Valenzuela, tossed the ceremonial first pitch and started on the bump for San Diego. Valenzuela found himself immensely popular with his native crowd, prompting manager Bruce Bochy to tell the New York Times, “With Fernando pitching we’re going to feel like the home team.” The series saw large crowds file inside the 25,000-seat stadium, with 23,699 on hand for San Diego’s 15-10 victory in game one, 20,873 for New York’s 7-3 win in game two, and 22,810 for San Diego’s 8-0 win in the rubber match. Monterrey would go on to host additional games in 1999, 2018, and 2019 with the Colorado Rockies, San Diego Padres, Cincinnati Reds, St. Louis Cardinals, Houston Astros, and Los Angeles Angels all making trips across the southern border.
While Monterrey hosted the first Major League games played outside the United States or Canada, Tokyo has become MLB’s favorite city to visit. Major League clubs have played ten ballgames in the Tokyo Dome since 2000, and the city is a natural fit for Major League Baseball’s foreign travels. It boasts quality infrastructure and a citizenry enamored with baseball. Baseball has become a way of life in Japan, with domestic games drawing throngs of viewers, both on television and in person. Furthermore, Major League Baseball has found numerous Japanese superstars, including the likes of Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui, Koji Uehara, Nori Aoki, Masahiro Tanaka, and Shohei Ohtani. Across ten games in the Tokyo Dome, Major League Baseball has never seen a single game attendance drop below 43,000 fans. So far, the Cubs, Mets, Devil Rays, Yankees, Red Sox, Athletics, and Mariners have all completed games in Japan.
In 2014, Major League Baseball went further south in the Pacific, hosting two games in Sydney, Australia, at the Sydney Cricket Ground. These games, contested in late March, saw the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks meet up for a pair of divisional tilts. Both games featured attendances of over 38,000 fans. In a fairly cricket-dominated market, those figures were great news for the MLB.
In 2019, Major League Baseball launched what was supposed to be a multi-year series of games in London as the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees faced each other twice in London Stadium. The Yankees defeated their bitter rivals in both games, winning 17-13 and 12-8. The St. Louis Cardinals were due to host the Chicago Cubs at London Stadium in June of 2020; however, the MLB cancelled those and other international events as the COVID-19 Pandemic delayed the season's opening. Regarding the cancellations, Rob Manfred said to ESPN, “It was unlikely the events would go forward, and timely cancellation allows us to preserve important financial resources.”
Major League Baseball’s new agreement to hold games and events in London represents a continued commitment to cultivating a British baseball fanbase. Regarding the agreement, Manfred said in a statement, “All aspects of the inaugural MLB games in London were an overwhelming success. It was clear that sports fans in London had a great appetite for baseball and that passion was shared by Mayor Khan as well as the business and media community. We are confident in making a long-term commitment to London and are looking forward to returning to the city with more MLB games, special fan events, and other opportunities to play and watch the game.” Mayor Khan said, “This long-term partnership with Major League Baseball is ambitious and includes regular-season games as well as a legacy program designed to grow the number of Londoners watching and playing baseball at a grassroots level in London.”
Major League Baseball has undertaken these international projects for one primary reason - growth. The league hopes these games will develop a new group of fans who will spend their entertainment dollars on Major League Baseball. Should this plan work, Major League Baseball could expect millions in previously unrealized revenue.