Wednesday, April 29, 2009

My first interview

I don't know if it's really an interview or not, but I'm going to count it. It's the first time some one has asked me my opinion on baseball in the UK, and I gladly answered the questions. Here's the e-mail I received:
I am a student at the University of Brighton in my final year. As part of our coursework we are required to submit a critical investigation on a sporting subject of our choice. As an avid baseball fan, supporting the frequently frustrating Cincinnati Reds, having lived there for five years, I am composing a piece about British baseball and the potential for its expansion. Having stumbled upon your blog, its vast coverage of baseball around the world is definitely something that does receive much coverage and makes for some fascinating reading. Saying this, I would be very much appreciative if you would be able to answer some questions from your perspective about the state of the game over here.
Cool. I'm all for education and baseball, and I like doing my part. Questions and answers below.

What do you think the possibilities of Major League Baseball staging an exhibition/regular season game in the in the near future? (Following in the footsteps of the advances made by the NFL and NBA) Are the chances remote, or is there a distinct possibility?

Not very good at all, and I’m not happy about it. MLB just doesn’t think there is enough of a fan base in Europe to bother with, in my opinion. The complete lack of knowledge about the European teams in the WBC showed that the powers that be just don’t care. I think it would go over well here, but I don’t see it happening for at least another 5 years, at a minimum.

How do you believe the IOC’s decision to remove baseball (and softball) from the Olympic Programme for London 2012 will hamper attempts to promote the sport here?

I think it will have an extremely negative effect. The attitude here is that baseball is still a fringe sport, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. But the UK didn’t send a team to the Beijing Olympics because of funding (they couldn’t afford the £25,000), so this will be a problem. Having baseball on the world’s biggest sport stage in their own backyard would have been what was needed here, particularly if the UK played well. The lack of exposure on an international basis is hurting the sport badly here.

In the previous two versions of the World Baseball Classic only two European sides, the and , competed. As both those nations boast domestic professional leagues, do you feel that it is necessary, in order for (and other nations) to compete, to establish professional ranks within the domestic stage?

Yes. Without a viable professional league, they just won’t get the talent. Right now, it is still at a semi-pro level. But as the league’s become professional, the players can concentrate on the game, and not worry about the distraction of working. Additionally, it allows the teams to go after the best players (one’s they can afford) versus whomever is available to play. It also allows ballplayers from other countries to come, which just increases the talent level competing. Right now, it is still too much of a weekend sport, versus a professional sport.

What can baseball organisers in do to help increase participation in the sport?

The first thing is the organization of youth leagues. If the kids aren’t playing, it has very little chance of taking off. Kids have to grow up with the game to continue with it as adults.

Secondly is local government involvement, in the matter of building proper fields, equipment, uniforms, and administration. Right now, too much of it is done by fund raising and volunteering.

Thirdly, getting school programs going is always good for increasing the profile of a sport. The same as youth leagues, but it is usually more organized in school than summer leagues.

Lastly, but actually most important, is advertising/exposure. It costs money, but it is what is needed. The organizers need to show how wide-spread baseball is in the country, and how many people are participating. More people would be interested if they knew more about it.

What is the likelihood of MLB developing a league similar to the format of the now defunct NFL Europe, to scout European talent as part of a more global search for players?

Not very likely. The minor leagues in the US are too well established, and with the instructional leagues and the Caribbean winter leagues, there is no reason to establish a league in Europe. It is more cost effective to scout here, and bring the players to the states, where they have access to the coaching, facilities and culture. That also allows the individual teams to have better control over the development of the players. That being said, I think a European league would work over here, but it would have to be run independently of MLB. But it could work, with one or two teams per country. It would allow the best players to compete, as well as being an additional draw for former major league players, instead of just Asia.

Why has Major League Baseball previously staged opening series to the regular season in Asian nations, particularly , where baseball already has a very strong following? Would it not serve the league more expand its reaches to less established baseball playing countries?

It would. You don’t need to expose the game in countries where it is already firmly entrenched. But it comes down to money. There are a large number of Asian players in MLB, with huge followings. This allows increased merchandising, as well as selling the satellite and TV packages. They don’t see the money from an opener in Europe. Again, it comes down to the perception that baseball isn’t played in Europe.The opener would also interfere with the playoffs in football, so there is the problem of competition. They just haven’t figured out it’s an untapped market.

Do you think baseball has a realistic chance of succeeding in the given it must compete against football/soccer, cricket and rugby to name of few for funding and coverage?

Succeed is a tricky word. Baseball can continue as it is with no problem, but it won’t be able to grow without something to grab onto. A professional league in Britain or a European league is needed for the game to really take off. It will never outdo football or rugby or cricket, just as soccer will never take over form football or baseball in the states. But it can succeed and grow if it gets the exposure it needs. If not, it will continue as a semi-pro sport.

Having read Josh Chetwynd’s book entitled British Baseball and the West Ham Club, the support for the game peaked just before World War II. Considering the fact that some teams folded before the outbreak of the war, how much do you think the unfortunate timing of the war impacted the league? In other words, if the war had not occurred, do you believe the league would have succeeded?

I haven’t read the book yet, but studying the history of the game here, the league was taking off. A lot of that was Babe Ruth, who became the best known name on the planet. Canadians and Americans had played a lot of baseball during WWI, and it took off after the war. Leagues started up, parks were built, and the game took off. I think baseball would have exploded in Britain if the war hadn’t intervened. Obviously it’s easy to say, but the evidence shows the game was growing and being taken seriously in the British press.

Do you foresee any wealthy benefactors taking the plunge, in the same manner John Moores did in the 1930s, and contributing vast sums of money to kick-start baseball here?

Not now. 25 years ago, maybe. But now there is an expectation of certain things, such as ball parks. The expense of decent parks is too much for one person, and the money that players could make (not US money, but substantial) would prohibit any one person from doing it. You would need to establish a league, with a different owner or consortium for each team. One individual just couldn’t do it. Altruism is great, but there has to be a profit margin, and one person couldn’t swing it.

How much will the removal of MLB coverage from terrestrial television affect the status of the game amongst the British public? Do you believe it will have a big impact, or just a minor one given the late-night programming of the Baseball on Five shows?

Huge. While the game is available via the internet, not enough people know about it. And some people just won’t pay it. It is also available on ESPN Europe, but not enough people have access to it, and won’t pay for it. Taking it off of free TV is a terrible blow to the game here, as it is taking the casual fan away from the game. The hardcore fans will still watch, but that isn’t the issue. It takes new fans to make the game grow. Without exposure to it, new people just won’t become interested

Woo hoo!!!. My little ego fest for the day.

1 comment:

JJ said...

"...The attitude here is that baseball is still a fringe sport, which couldn’t be farther from the truth..."

Well, I dunno, but I think that attitude is pretty close to the truth.

We're talking about a sport that has about 1000 players in the UK amongst a population of around 60million. No free TV coverage now. The coverage that does exist doesn't include full games and isn't on the mainstream channels (although I guess the definition of mainstream has changed over the last few years). In the printed press only the World Series seems to get a mention and even then pretty much only at the start or at the end of the series.

I honestly can't see how baseball can be seen as anything other than a fringe sport here.

Well, that or calling it a fringe sport is overstating baseball's status in the UK...