There is no denying that post-season, win or go home baseball games create as much drama as one can find anywhere in sports. Tonight, the Giants will take on the Cardinals in a Game 7 that will be as emotionally charged as any baseball game we might witness all year. This type of drama is what draws us Americans so passionately to the game and allows us to identify so fervently with our favorite teams.
Next March, Major League Baseball will try and share this passion and fervor with the rest of the world through the third installment of the World Baseball Classic. This tournament style event will hopefully continue to spark interest in baseball by combining the exuberance of do-or-die baseball games with the added extra excitement of international competition.
While the World Baseball Classic seems to still only have a lackluster following in the U.S.—primarily due to many owner’s fear of injury and reluctance to let star player’s participate—the event looks to use its international popularity to increase the growth of the sport in other countries in 2013.
The newly implemented qualifier system has expanded the field from 16 to 28 countries for this version of the event, allowing countries such as Spain, Israel, Germany, Brazil, Columbia, Chinese Taipei and others to participate for the first time. This expansion of the field reveals Major League Baseball's plan to use the World Baseball Classic as far more than just another revenue generator.
The World Baseball Classic serves as a means in which Major League Baseball can promote the sport and slowly start to infiltrate new markets. While baseball’s popularity has spread like wildfire in certain Latin American and Asian countries, the sport has seen limited growth in Europe, South America and Africa.
The World Baseball Classic, along with several other initiatives such as the MLB International European Baseball Academy, a multiple week academy designed to grant exposure to ballplayers from Europe, New Zealand and Africa, hope to change this by sparking increased interest in the sport.
The World Baseball Classic Qualifier 2, which was held last month in Regensburg, Germany, was able to garner crowds of greater than 4,000, showing that interest in the sport in Europe does exist.
In 2011 Alex Liddi became the first participant of the European Baseball Academy to make his major league debut—for the Seattle Mariners—and he is only one of the 63 Europeans to ink contracts with a Major League club since the academy’s inception in 2005.
Along with the MLB International European Baseball Academy, there are currently 17 other baseball developmental academies in Europe. Major League Baseball hopes that an increase in European teams involved with the World Baseball Classic will continue the positive growth of baseball on the continent, by placing their National teams at the international epicenter of the game.
While baseball seems to be making steady gains in Europe, it has hit developmental roadblocks elsewhere.
In 2009, it was announced that the Rays were going to open up a baseball academy in Marilia, Brazil to develop local talent. However, complications with the Brazilian Baseball and Softball Confederation and the city hall of Marilia, forced that plan to fall through. Yet, the interest of the Rays to build a developmental academy in Brazil is evidence that many feel Brazil has the potential to be a successful market for the sport. Major League Baseball hopes that Brazil's participation in the World Baseball Classic qualifier will act as a catalyst for future growth of baseball in Brazil, as well as possibly the rest of South America.
Baseball has also struggled to penetrate the Chinese market as well.
A 2010 article in The Economist describes MLB’s efforts, saying “Despite a big promotional budget, MLB has not made much of an impression. It has brought branded clothing to Chinese stores, but not balls or bats. Fields are rare.”
China, who will participate in its third World Baseball Classic this March, is evidence that in order for baseball to increase in popularity, it must have a grassroots foundation. No matter how much exposure the sport receives through marketing, the media or an event like the World Baseball Classic, without a strong foundation at the youth level, the growth of the sport will be substantially limited.
Whether or not the World Baseball Classic ever reaches ultra-high popularity levels in the United States, there is no doubt that its impact on the global development of the game is remarkable and will not be fully understood for years to come.
Not only does the World Baseball Classic increase revenue for Major League Baseball through ticket and apparel sales, sponsorships and television rights, but it creates exposure to the sport in formerly undeveloped baseball regions. With the formation of new leagues and academies worldwide, the talent base for the league will only increase in the future, creating a better product and an increased fan base not only for the World Baseball Classic, but Major League Baseball as well.