This weekend saw a major step for Major League Baseball in Europe with the return of its MLB London Series. The Chicago Cubs and St Louis Cardinals played two games across the weekend, with Chicago winning 9-1 on Saturday and St Louis 7-5 on Sunday.
Most importantly, more than 110,000 fans watched the series, with crowds of 54,662 and 55,565 at the London Stadium giving MLB its two biggest attendances this season. It’s a major boost for the sport in the UK, particularly after the false start of the previous MLB London Series.
The idea had been launched in 2019, the first time MLB games had been played in Europe and featuring the New York Yankees against the Boston Red Sox, with the Yankees winning both games. Just under 120,000 fans were in the crowds that time but any momentum was lost when the 2020 Series had to be cancelled because of the pandemic.
Fortunately, the concept was kickstarted in 2022 with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and London Mayor Sadiq Khan announcing a long-term partnership. This includes regular season games in 2024, 2026 and other major events across the next five years.
UK baseball on the rise?
Coming off the back of Great Britain’s first appearance in the World Baseball Classic in March – and qualification for the 2026 tournament – it represents a big step for the sport in the UK. But could it also be just the first step into the wider European market?
“The U.K. has really been identified for us, London in particular, as the jumping-off point for us to get into Europe,” Chris Marinak, MLB’s chief operations and strategy officer, told The Associated Press. “We feel like we proved that out in 2019. By coming back and having a really strong showing … we’re going to have the opportunity to really make some headway for growth both in the UK and throughout Europe.
“We’ve really focused on looking into Europe as once a year, maybe max twice a year … just because it’s such an effort to get over there and it doesn’t really fit into the normal cadence of the major league schedule, but we really do think it’s important to bring live game content to the market.
“We want to hit our priority markets, but we may rotate around to a Germany in the long run or if there’s a facility in the Netherlands that we could potentially look at, France we’ve talked about, the UK,” he continued. “But for the medium term, we’re really focused on the UK as our primary vehicle.”
This year’s MLB London Series took the thrills and spills of baseball to the UK along with celebrity fans like John Goodman and Bill Murray, as well as a mascot race featuring Winston Churchill, Henry VIII and Freddie Mercury.
Away from the stadium, Trafalgar Square was transformed into a free baseball festival over the weekend, attracting thousands of fans, while other events were held around the UK in Sheffield and Cardiff. With an eye on the future, school children were invited to workout day on Friday, while a local primary school received $25,000 to build a permanent baseball diamond.
Whether it will be enough to help establish baseball in a country dominated by home-grown sports remains to be seen, but MLB clearly sees the London Series as the first step in a wider continental masterplan.
Written and distributed by Chat T Sports.