Major League Baseball started its regular season in relative obscurity this weekend. Actually, Major League Baseball started its regular season in total obscurity this weekend. With the exception of nocturnal Americans and Australian baseball fans, baseball succeeded in alienating every casual fan in the country by starting the regular season at 4 AM eastern time.
If the time didn’t drive you away from this weekend’s opening series, MLB decided to compete with the greatest weekend in sports. While the NCAA Tournament is raging on from morning until night, MLB decided to squeeze into the much coveted 4 AM time slot.
Expanding into a growing baseball region is important – 2008’s Japan series helped to further the growth of an already successful baseball market – but there are right ways and wrong ways to expand your brand.
In other major American sports, expansion overseas has been done tactfully. The NFL has introduced their sport to Europe with their international series. Despite being four hours from the Eastern Time Zone, the NFL’s games in London were always put into a regular broadcast time. This allowed for the game to be taken on the road without sacrificing anything for the fans in the United States.
The NBA expanded their brand overseas with international competition more than international regular season games. Because basketball is an Olympic sport, the NBA has an advantage over baseball. American ‘Dream Teams’ sparked the imagination of international fans, and showed how exciting and beautiful the sport could be at the highest level. In the 20+ years after the 1992 Olympics the NBA has exploded with foreign talent. In 1992 there were 21 international players on NBA rosters, but that number has tripled including some of the most consistent all-star player in the league.
The NBA tried to go international with a regular season game in Mexico, but the game did not go smoothly. Before the game even started, an escalator filled the building with smoke and made the game unplayable.
These attempts, however, are just an attempt to catch up with baseball’s impact on an international stage. Baseball already had its international renaissance in Hispanic countries. The NFL has just 2.88 percent of players from foreign countries while the NBA boasts an international flavor of over 20 percent. Both of these numbers pale in comparison to the 28 percent that Major League Baseball has.
In the explosion of foreign talent in Major League Baseball came after world-class players from other countries gained fame. Japan already has all-star-caliber players Yu Darvish, Hisashi Iwakuma and Koji Uehara, opening them to MLB competition, but Australia doesn’t have a player of that caliber yet.
These MLB outreach trips are not useless, but they are not the best or most efficient way to expand the brand of the league. If they want to reach a baseball hungry market like Australia they just have to wait until they produce a baseball superstar to carry the Australian torch.