When American sports leagues schedule games in London, they often send some of — how should we put this? — their less grabby teams. The poor Brits have endured years of (pre-renaissance) Jacksonville Jaguars games and brutal NBA matchups involving the moribund Brooklyn Nets and Phoenix Suns. It’s as if the leagues want fans overseas to like their sports…but only to a point.
Well Major League Baseball is reportedly planning a trans-Atlantic trip of its own, only Rob Manfred and company aren’t pulling any punches on scheduling. According to Bloomberg, Rob Manfred and company are nearing an agreement to have the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox play two 2019 regular-season games at London Stadium, which hosted opening and closing ceremonies for the 2012 Olympics.
MLB has previously played regular-season games in Mexico, Japan and Australia but never in Europe. The Yankees and Red Sox have each participated in an overseas trip before, with the New York facing Tampa for two games at the Tokyo Dome in 2004 and Boston meeting Oakland at the same venue four years later.
The Associated Press reports that the two London games would take place on June 29-30, after the Premier League season has finished but before summer track and field events, and that the Red Sox have the option of counting both as “home” games. According to the New York Post, however, “major hurdles” remain before a deal can be completed, with no promoter onboard and no official deal with London Stadium.
It’s worth noting that major-league players never seem super jazzed about disrupting their routines to play overseas and that a mid-season series could bug them even more, but the option to play games abroad is written into the collective bargaining agreement, so they’ll just have to deal with it. Per the AP, each participating player will get an extra $60,000 for their involvement in the trans-Atlantic trip.
The fact that the Yankees and Red Sox are apparently interested in sacrificing lucrative home games against their respective biggest rival seems to demonstrate just how much value the teams see in building their brand in London. Europe’s baseball culture remains in its infancy, though the continent is beginning to produce major-league players (The Netherlands’ Didi Gregorius, Germany’s Max Kepler, Lithuani’s Dovydas Neverauskas) and make a dent at the World Baseball Classic. The United Kingdom itself doesn’t have much of a baseball history (besides inventing Rounders, the sport’s predecessor), but every team in every sport talks these days about expanding its international footprint, and Europe is one logical place to do so.
So will anyone across the pond particularly care about baseball? Who knows. But the experiment has a better chance of paying off with the Yankees and Red Sox involved than with whoever counts as the Jacksonville Jaguars of Major League Baseball.