It has been rumored for a while now, but on Tuesday it was finally confirmed. Two major league baseball games will take place in London in 2019. Not just any baseball games, but games between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.
These two teams have been associated with this for a while and it is a great move by the MLB. They could easily have tested the market with two lesser teams to gauge the response. Instead, they have sent over two of the big fish to try and make an impact on the UK market.
These two games will take place on the 29th and 30th of June 2019 at the London Olympic Stadium. The details of start times, stadium configuration and tickets will all be announced in the future. It is a big move by the MLB for a number of reasons.
The History of International Games
This is of course not the first baseball game played outside of America. However, it is the first major league baseball game to be played in the UK. There have in fact been four other countries where major league baseball games have been contested; Mexico, Japan, Puerto Rico and Australia. The last official “international” game was in Australia in 2014 between the Dodgers and Diamondbacks. Those games made up an “Opening Series” prior to “Opening Day” and similar series have been done in Japan. In fact, Japan will host two games between the Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners in 2019.
The games in Mexico and Puerto Rico have been a little different. They have been played during the regular season itself. In 2018, the Twins and the Indians faced off in April in Puerto Rico and the Padres faced the Dodgers in Mexico in June.
How will this work?
2018 has seen a number of weather affected games early in the season. Well, I can tell you as a resident of the UK that our weather is equally as unpredictable in April and May. For this reason, the MLB could not commit to two games as another “Opening Series” alongside the two Japan games. Instead, they have had to go for a date in June when they might have a better chance of good weather. This does make for a logistical issue for MLB and the teams.
London is about two hours further from New York by plane than Puerto Rico is from Minnesota or Cleveland. It is actually only about an hour longer than flying from New York to Los Angeles. Therefore travel is not the issue. Teams can travel in such luxury that seven hours on a plane is nothing to them.
The issue is the time zones. Puerto Rico, Mexico, Los Angeles and New York all fall across four hours of time zones. London is five hours behind New York and Boston. Yes, New York to Los Angeles is a three hour change, but it is different. Anyone who has made the trip will tell you that is a significant difference. Five hours turns breakfast to lunch, lunch to dinner and dinner to bed time. Baseball teams can cope with a long flight but coping with a significant time zone change will be a new challenge.
I expect the start time of the game to be 6pm UK time as MLB teams are used to 1pm EST starts. This will mean that both teams can try and stay on schedule as much as possible. Playing a baseball game, flying to the UK, playing two baseball games and flying back to play more baseball will be tough.
Is it do-able?
Yes, it is and I expect the MLB to schedule in a rest day both sides and possibly two. Both teams will have to accept less rest days at other points in the season but that is not a huge issue. It also works fine for east coast teams but for anyone further west it will be a significant challenge. How these two teams handle this challenge will determine whether the UK gets more games beyond 2020.
The final word
The MLB has taken a leap into the relative unknown. The UK is a reasonably untapped market for baseball. However, both the NFL and NBA have made this leap and baseball really had to follow. By sending two big market teams they have likely guaranteed these matches to be popular. Honestly, first time up they could have sent the Rays and Marlins and probably still nearly filled the stadium both days. This matchup is a huge reward for UK fans who often follow their teams into the early hours. I for one am over the moon and hopefully, we get two amazing games between two amazing teams.