THE BLOG

Is Major League Baseball About to Follow the NFL Into London?

17/11/2014 16:56 GMT | Updated 17/01/2015 10:59 GMT

The NFL's International Series initiative has been a resounding success for everyone aside from England's manager Roy Hodgson.

The impact of having the Jacksonville Jaguars and Dallas Cowboys on the hallowed Wembley Stadium turf less than a week before a European Championship qualifier may not have been ideal for the game Brits know as football, but it was yet another example of how the football of the United States is taking a firm hold on these shores.

Indeed, the success has been such that the possibility of an NFL team having a permanent base in the U.K. has moved from being a pipedream to something under very real consideration.

With the NFL making huge inroads and both the NBA and NHL bringing games to the O2 Arena in recent years, what are the odds that Major League Baseball will join in as the other main North American sport to make a mark here?

It's more likely than perhaps you would think.

Major League Baseball (MLB) has been raising its international profile over the last ten years or so. A major international tournament, the World Baseball Classic (WBC), was launched in 2006 designed in part to make up for baseball (and softball's) lost Olympic-sport status. The Netherlands in particular have represented Europe with great distinction in the tournament and the Great Britain national team participated in a WBC qualification tournament back in 2012.

MLB has also taken a number of pre-season and regular season games to other countries; in fact it could be argued that baseball was the pioneer that other sports have followed.

Most recently the Sydney Cricket Ground played host to the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks for two games to start the 2014 MLB season back in March. If the legendary SCG could be turned over to another bat-and-ball game, why should a game at Lords or the Oval be out of the question?

The answer is that it shouldn't be, shown in part by the fact that teams from the States have made the trip before.

As documented in the book 'British Baseball and the West Ham Club' by Josh Chetwynd and Brian A. Belton, the first known MLB-related baseball expedition to Britain came in 1874 when the Boston Red Stockings and Philadelphia Athletics played a series of exhibition games across the country.

Future tours included the New York Giants and Chicago White Sox playing at Chelsea's Stamford Bridge in 1924 in front of a packed crowd including King George V, and most recently in 1993 the Boston Red Sox and New York Mets brought some Minor League players over for an exhibition game at the Oval cricket ground in London.

So, MLB has a clear strategy to expand into other markets, London is an obvious city for the sport to visit and baseball has been here before.

The biggest challenge may be finding a space in the calendar. Spring Training in March would make most sense from the perspective of the teams being able to recover from the travel back and forth and that seemed to work fine for the trip to Australia.

Expecting 'baseball weather' in Britain during March requires a bit of optimism on the part of the organizers, but we have experienced some pleasantly mild days in March so that's not out of the question. Alternatively, if there is enough will to make it happen, potentially two teams could come over just ahead of the mid-season All-Star break. It wouldn't be easy, but it wouldn't be impossible either.

The soon-to-be-retiring MLB Commissioner Bud Selig has stated that he would like MLB to come across to Europe and an impressive new ballpark has already been built in Hoofddorp, Netherlands, as one potential site. The ballpark in Regensburg, Germany, might also be a contender, as would a potential trip to a stadium in Italy.

Britain doesn't have a dedicated baseball facility of that standard yet, but the Oval could be temporarily transformed in the way that the SCG was to provide a decent playing field.

Will it happen? Well, the news coming out of the British Baseball Federation's Annual General Meeting over the 15-16 November weekend was that MLB is considering bringing a game or two over to these shores in 2016.

Whether London is the first European landing spot remains to be seen, but it looks likely that MLB will be playing games in this continent in the near future and following the NFL's path to London surely would be an attractive proposition at some point.

Let's just hope that if it does happen the pitcher's mound is flattened and the outfield wall safely taken down so that England's cricket captain Alistair Cook is not left 'doing a Hodgson' and bemoaning the playing conditions at the Oval.