London will host the first international games between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. These two bitter rivals will travel next June overseas.
They will meet next June 29 and 30 at London’s Olympic Stadium for the first Major League Baseball regular-season games in the United Kingdom and Europe. For those keeping track, the Boston Red Sox are the home team both games and Fenway Park will have 79 scheduled dates in 2019.
Although MLB has played regular games in Japan, Mexico, Australia and Puerto Rico, this is the first visit to the ancestral home of baseball’s two sporting cousins. Cricket, where the terms runs and innings come from, and rounders are games invented in the UK which heavily influenced the rules of baseball.
MLB is the last of North America’s big four to play in London. The NFL has four annual dates in the fall either at Wembley Stadium and Twickenham. The NBA and NHL are semi-regular visitors to the O2 Arena. Games in Scandinavia are not uncommon for the NHL with Norway, Sweden and Finland sending their best players west.
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Tapping the European market makes sense for baseball. The Netherlands and Germans are places where the game shows growth on a player level. Italy and Israel qualified for last year’s World Baseball Classic while the Dutch have consecutive fourth-place finishes.
Although the NFL is bullish on putting a franchise, and possibly a Super Bowl, in London, MLB wants to expand the overall game across the globe. Sending two bitter rivals to play in front of big potential crowds is a start.
MLB is not foreign for UK audiences. A package of games, including the World Series, ran on over-the-air television for years. But, since the games were at night in the United States, they ran overnight in Great Britain. Great for cult fans, terrible for catching casual ones with good sleeping habits.
What is a minor surprise is where the games are scheduled to go. When the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks opened the 2014 season in Sydney, Australia, they played at the historic Sydney Cricket Ground. This trip, they are skipping the birthplace of test cricket at Lords and The Kia Oval.
Both stadiums seat under 30,000 but are easier to configure for baseball. The choice of Olympic Stadium says MLB expects demand for tickets will be high. The home of Premier League side West Ham United seats 66,000 for soccer. Used for soccer, rugby, track and shorter cricket matches, baseball is new to the stadium.
If successful, expect to see more baseball in the UK. The Red Sox and Liverpool FC share ownership while the New York Yankees and Manchester City operate MLS franchise New York City FC. They play their home games at Yankee Stadium.
With both teams on the rise, those watching the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees are in for a good show.