MLB: Opening Day in Japan Is Good for Baseball

Michael FitzpatrickFeatured ColumnistMarch 25, 2008

We are a very patriotic country. We want everything American to stay right here in America, including our national pastime.

But this morning’s opening day game between the Red Sox and A’s, which was played in Japan, is a very positive event for the game of baseball.

MLB’s decision to hold opening day in Japan is another step in successfully growing the game internationally. Any action that encourages the expansion of the sport internationally in terms of popularity—and the monetary return that popularity brings—should be seen as a good move.

Opening day is always one of the highlights of the Major League Baseball season. Every team starts off with the same record and every fan is hopefully and optimistic about their team’s prospects of success.

So, I do feel for the Red Sox and A’s fans having to wake up at 5:00 AM EST to watch this exciting event from half way across the world.  But at the same time, as a baseball fan, you have to appreciate anything that promotes the popularity of the game.

MLB holding opening day in Japan not only supports the growth of the game.  It also supports one of the cornerstones of American culture.

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Outside of the United States, Japan is probably the country most interested in baseball. They have their own version of a professional baseball league and as we have seen in recent years, this league can produce some very talented ballplayers, perfectly capable of playing here in the major leagues.

Players such as Ichiro Suzuki and Daisuke Matsuzaka have successfully made the transition from Japan to the United States. They have also brought with them the interest of millions of Japanese baseball fans.

This interest has resulted in a massive increase in the sales of MLB licensed merchandise in Japan as well as a huge MLB television contract in Japan.  Both are beneficial to MLB.

Between 2000 and 2006, sales of MLB licensed merchandise in Japan increased from $36.6 to $103.7 million.  As far as television, the league signed a six-year, $235 million deal with Japanese media giant Dentsu.

Japan is the most advanced country in the Far East. So it is no surprise that Japan’s interest in MLB has started trickle over to other countries.  MLB now distributes licensed merchandise to 40 stores in China, 100 stores in Korea, and another 100 in Taiwan—of course resulting in additional revenue.

Is it a drain on the players to travel half way across the world to begin a grueling six-month, 162-game season?

Of course it is.

Is it disappointing for Red Sox and A’s fans to watch the excitement of opening day from the other side of the globe?

Of course it is.

But holding opening day in Japan, although a burden on players and fans alike, will do more to grow the game of baseball than many of us think.

Let's face it, we are not the most popular country in the world at the moment. So any opportunity to promote our culture and the game is not only good for MLB, but for America.


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