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Red Sox and Yankees heading to London in 2019?

by Matt Smith

As you likely would have already seen, Bloomberg and other US news outlets reported late on Monday that plans are close to being agreed for the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees to play two games at the London Olympic Stadium next year.

The news isn’t really a surprise. Back in December 2016 it was being reported that the Red Sox and Yankees were two of teams that were most involved in plans to come across to London, with senior figures being quoted about this potentially leading to the two teams bringing their rivalry to the UK.

At the time it looked more likely that the two teams would come across separately – with London games on the provisional list for 2020 too – and that they would face a team such as the Tampa Bay Rays for whom losing a couple of home games would be less of a high profile issue.

Instead, it does now look like the Red Sox and Yankees will face each other after all if the logistics can be figured out and games are staged here next year.

That would be great news for us to have two of the marquee teams coming across and is a statement of intent from MLB that they are serious in getting as much publicity out of the games as possible. So from our perspective – other than a bit of disappointment if you support one of the other 28 teams – that’s exciting.

General reaction among U.S. Red Sox and Yankee fans has not been as kind to the news though and that’s a good reminder that for this to really work, it has to be something that works on both sides of the Atlantic.

Ten years ago the Premier League floated the idea of taking games to foreign shores by introducing a 39th game, knowing that the prospect of taking away one of a team’s existing 19 home games would have been strongly opposed. Even that concession was not enough to prevent a torrent of criticism that resulted in the plans being shelved.

Fans in the States have no great reason to care about expanding MLB into Europe, much as it makes such a difference to us. If it effects their enjoyment of watching their team then they’re not going to like the idea regardless of the wider benefits to baseball.

MLB teams play 162 games in a season so you could argue staging a couple in another country shouldn’t make much difference, but taking away two of the 19 contests between the Red Sox and Yankees is bound to create negativity among some of their fans. You’d imagine it would involve both teams giving up a home game (some reports are now claiming that actually they will both be Boston home games) and so fans at Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium would have to accept they’ll get eight home games against their bitter rival rather than nine.

The bigger issue is how it could affect the teams when it comes to fitting the games into their schedule and any fall-out from this (or assumed fall-out) on their regular season campaigns.  A follow-up from NY Post’s Joel Sherman made the point that there are still plenty of logistical matters to be worked out.

The problem is that playing games at the end of Spring Training, as MLB has done with series in Japan and Australia, isn’t a great option thanks to the likelihood that British weather won’t be baseball weather at the end of March.

The obvious solution is to play a series at one side of the All-Star break in July as that would make it easier to build in the travel to the schedule; however that doesn’t appear to be an option that would fit in with other plans for the Olympic Stadium.  June is the provisional month on the cards and it’s going to be interesting to see how they make that work.

Thinking it through, the least amount of off-days needed probably would be two: a day-game in the States on Thursday, arrive into the UK on Friday morning for a day off, play games on Saturday and Sunday then a travel day on Monday to head back to play their next game on Tuesday night. Even that would be a tight turnaround with the time difference factored in, so you’d maybe need a doubleheader in there too (the Wednesday before so they arrive into the UK on Thursday, or the Wednesday after so they don’t have to play on the Tuesday night when they return).

For players who like to stick to their routines, and fans used to watching their team playing pretty much every day, that’s going to be a major talking point and one that MLB will need to be mindful of, communicating the plan on how to make it work and the benefits of the trip.

The New York Mets are the other team who have been most closely linked with playing in the UK, not least when London Mayor Sadiq Khan threw at the ceremonial first pitch at Citi Field last year. If the 2019 games do go ahead and work well, the smart money would be on Mets vs Nationals or Phillies for 2020 (I’d guess giving up homes games at newish publicly-funded ballparks would be an issue for the Braves and Marlins, although you can never count anything out with Miami).

We’re getting ahead of ourselves there though. It hasn’t officially been confirmed that games will be played in London in 2019, let alone 2020, but all signs are pointing to the Red Sox and Yankees taking to a diamond in London next June.

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David Oakes March 22, 2018 - 4:42 pm

Great article, Matt. It’s certainly exciting news; here’s hoping it goes ahead. What are your thoughts on the likelihood of them filling the stadium for two games, though? I worry that baseball may not resonate with the British public as much as the NFL and NBA (or even the NHL, back when they played in London.)

Matt Smith March 22, 2018 - 8:10 pm

Will need good promotion and realistic ticket prices, but with those I’m sure it will do well. There is a decent base of fans here, and in Europe who will travel across, with plenty of North Americans in London too. Add that to those who’ll come along as it’s something different and they should be able to sell well


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