Is Baseball United going to be effective at spreading the game internationally?
A venture based in Dubai aims to create a professional baseball league in the Middle East and South Asia has announced their first franchise in Mumbai.
Baseball United is an intriguing concept. Modelled on the Indian Premier League of professional cricket, the aim is to bring baseball to the Middle East and South Asia. And they have led off by swinging for the fences, announcing their first franchise, the Mumbai Cobras.
Over the coming weeks, three more teams will be announced and the four teams will launch with a showcase tournament in Dubai to be held this November.
Kash Shaikh, president and CEO of Baseball United, says, “Major League Baseball is over 150 years old and has so much romance and pageantry. And, you know, it’s one of the few American sports that have yet to be exported to this part of the world.”
And by that part of the world is ripe for the plucking. In the region, and in India in particular, the game of cricket is almost a religion unto itself.
The similarities between cricket and baseball are at once obvious. They are both bat-and-ball games, both created over 300 years ago in England (forget that Abner Doubleday nonsense, it is nothing more than jingoistic claptrap), and both exported to the British colonies where the locals joyously adopted them.
Cricket was a serious competitor for dominance in America until the mid-1800s, when baseball pulled into a decisive lead. And while baseball was, and still is, played by children in the form of Rounders all over the remnants of the Empire, it is on these shores where it morphed into the modern game that we know and love.
There are other similarities between the games that are more modern. Like baseball, cricket was deemed to be a dying game based largely on the fact that it was too slow. Sound familiar?
And then a new, faster format, the T-20 format, was devised and cricket moved from an all-day affair down to around three hours. Is this ringing any bells? It should be setting off fire alarms in your head.
But there was a resurgence unlike anything the cricket world thought possible with the creation of the IPL. Cricket became loud, vibrant, and most importantly crowd-pleasing. It did nothing less than resuscitate a sport that was widely believed to be on its death bed.
Currently, the IPL’s five-year broadcasting rights are worth more than $6 billion.
Baseball United aims to recreate that revival with baseball, and they believe that they can create a new format of the game that will appeal to cricket-loving audiences.
And they have some MLB clout, in the form of former big leaguers who are investing in the league. Mariano Rivera and Barry Larkin have a combined six World Series Championships and 25 All-Star Game selections between them, and are both investors in the venture.
If the 2023 World Baseball Classic taught us anything, it is that there is a huge appetite for baseball outside of the United States, and in a form that often is at odds with the MLB. The luxury of looking inward and focusing on the domestic market only is one that baseball can no longer afford.
Baseball United will announce further franchises, tv rights deals, and sponsorship secured over the coming weeks.