Major League Baseball’s ascent internationally has been carefully planned, but there are still important demographic differentiators.
Major League Baseball’s ‘World Series’ may be famously devoid of world teams, but its raft of international players, its nail-biting action, and its pomp and circumstance have solidified its global appeal.
MLB previously held regular season games in Australia, Japan, Mexico, and Puerto Rico, and spring training games in China, but until this summer, it had never held any games in Europe.
Unlike the NBA and the NfL, MLB’s UK ascent has been relatively recent. MLB announced a two-year agreement in 2018 to hold baseball games at London Stadium during the 2019 and 2020 seasons. The inaugural series was played between long time divisional rivals the Red Sox and Yankees.
Putting the ‘world’ in World Series
Charlie Hill, vice president international strategy at Major League Baseball, talks expansion
How is the UK market different to the US?
The number of fans we have in each market differs. There are already a large number of fans in Europe with a mix of those regularly watching the game and those actually playing. We wanted to make sure that all fans coming to the games had a basic level of understanding to assist their enjoyment.
We worked with media outlets in the UK to increase media coverage of the 2018 post-season and 2019 season ahead of the London Series. Our social platforms provided engaging content on a regular basis while marketing campaigns provided introductions to the team marks and key players.
As well as activity ahead of the games, there were plenty of opportunities for fans to learn more about the sport, the players and the teams while they were at the stadium, at PLAY BALL PARK, at London Yards and also during the game itself, via specially created videos, infographics and interactive stations.
What expansion plans do you have for the brand internationally and in the UK/US?
We are keen to expand the footprint of international games around the world. When we look ahead we do think that playing games in European cities, in addition to London, would be an important and exciting step forward.
Europe is already an important market for MLB and has been for a number of years. We currently have over 100,000 regular players of organised baseball in Europe and a player development pipeline with more than 20 players under contract to MLB teams coming from Czech Republic, France, Russia, Italy, Holland, Germany, Lithuania, Moldova and Spain.
Our media footprint across Europe continues to grow and we have 12 media partners showing games in 35 European countries. In addition, Europe represents MLB’s second largest international consumer products region. Approximately 30% of international consumer products revenue in 2018 came from Europe.
In terms of London, the city has consistently embraced a range of sporting events and it is logical geographically for us to come here first as we build our presence in Europe. We are consistently looking to build new relationships with fans and partners all over the world and bringing such an iconic rivalry to a global city like London provided us with a great platform to continue that process.
Case study: London Yards
Brits and baseball do mix
Client name: Major League Baseball
Project name: London Yards
London Yards was a three-day festival celebrating all things baseball that ran from the 28-30 June 2019 at the Truman Brewery. It involved digital and physical baseball activations, screenings of the London Series, ballpark-inspired food and drink, and live music and DJs.
Challenge: reaching a new demographic
In 2019, Major League Baseball made history by playing their first-ever regular season games in Europe between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. Demand for tickets was huge, and the games sold out instantly. However, MLB knew that the true value of London Series was reaching out beyond those avid baseball fans in the stadium. Launching in a new market meant MLB could communicate in new ways and speak to a new generation of baseball fans. Our brief was to create a London Series fan festival that engaged a new, millennial audience.
To engage this group we had to create an experience that was authentic to baseball but also appealed to the cultural passion points of our audience, and had depth and reach. The festival was full of events, from the world’s first indoor Home Run Derby that was live streamed on Twitter, to performances from UK grime artist Lady Leshurr supported by Sony, ‘47 and Highsnobeity, and there were a number of activations from the Spin Cycle baseball game to the VR batting cages. On top of this, a great array of food inspired by the teams and the culinary of heritage Boston and New York was provided by local street food vendors.