MLB is reportedly finalizing an agreement for a two-game series between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees that would take place in London.
The Boston Red Sox may be taking their rivalry with the New York Yankees across the pond.
According to the Associated Press, Major League Baseball is finalizing plans for a two-game series between the AL East rivals at London’s Olympic Stadium on June 29-30 in 2019. This would be the first time that regular season games have ever been played in Europe.
Baseball has long been considered America’s pastime but MLB remains intent on increasing their reach to other countries. The NBA has done a tremendous job of transforming into a global attraction. The NFL has been holding games in London for the past several years. MLB, which has notoriously been resistant to change, has been slow to follow suit.
That may be changing, with Red Sox owner John Henry among the pioneers leading the way. Henry’s Fenway Sports Group already has a presence in England through ownership of the Liverpool Football Club. It’s no surprise then that Henry is willing to allow his Red Sox to be the guinea pig in this European experiment.
"“This is something the two clubs have discussed for years with MLB, and hopefully it will become a reality,” Henry said in an email to The Associated Press."
Live games in Europe have proven to be beneficial to growing the popularity of the sport in both the NBA and NFL. Baseball has fallen behind them among the ranks of the most popular North American sports. While MLB has been focused on pace-of-play improvements to appeal to the shorter attention spans of the younger generation, expanding baseball’s reach on a global level could be another key component to the long-term stability of the sport.
A series in London would be great for MLB and nothing would make a better impression than by showcasing the historic rivalry between the Red Sox and Yankees. However, what’s great for baseball may not be so great for the individual franchises making the trip.
NFL teams that play in Europe typically have their schedule arranged to have the game followed by their Bye week. That gives the players extra time to travel home, recover from jetlag and adjust to the drastic time zone differential.
The Boston Celtics were given four days to rest following their win over the Philadelphia 76ers in London this past January. Four days is a considerably long layoff between games on an NBA schedule. Yet that downtime may not have been enough, as the C’s would end up losing their next four games. They hadn’t lost more than two in a row up to that point. It’s fair to surmise that the travel overseas was at least a partial factor in their lethargic play in the aftermath of their return home.
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MLB teams don’t have the luxury of taking that much time off between games. Baseball players are accustomed to taking the field every day, with the occasional off day scheduled to give them a breather. It’s rare for teams to have consecutive days off unless it’s due to weather postponements. The Red Sox may be given an extra day or two at most after traveling back from London but would still seem to be at a disadvantage entering their next series.
We have seen MLB games played in Mexico, Japan, and Australia in previous seasons. However, in each of those cases, the games were scheduled at the beginning of the season. When the Red Sox faced the Oakland A’s in 2008 they played a two-game series from March 25-26. They were then given nearly a week off before facing each other again in Oakland on April 1. If the players were still suffering from any residual travel hangover, at least both sides were playing under the same circumstances.
Boston and New York could similarly face each other again after returning stateside. That would resolve the problem with any team being given an unfair advantage. It would still be difficult to give both teams more than a couple days to recover without limiting the off days over the rest of the season schedule.
Opening the season in London or planning it around the All-Star break would make it far easier. That doesn’t appear to be in the cards in this case. MLB is eyeing a window in June after the Premier League season and before the stadium must be made available for summer track and field events.
The report also indicates that both games in London could count as home games for the Red Sox. This puts the Red Sox at a disadvantage by forcing them to play two neutral site games at the expense of games where they would have home-field advantage.
Attracting new fans in Europe has clear long-term benefits for both MLB and the Red Sox organization. The pros would seem to outweigh the cons in the long run, yet we can’t ignore that there would be a significant short-term downside for the 2019 Red Sox.