Does American Sport Need to Expand Worldwide?

While watching the World Baseball Classic over the weekend and the USA team was fighting for its life the thought occurred to me.  If the USA team is not going to include the absolute best players available then why have a team?  For that matter if the Dominicans or Puerto Ricans don’t have all their best what is the real purpose?

If the tournament is just an exercise sponsored by Major League Baseball to get back at the Olympics for booting baseball from the Games it is doing little to change that situation.  One of the excuses given by the Olympics for the baseball boot was that the best major league players were not on Olympic team rosters.

Hey, that is exactly the same thing going on with the MLB-sponsored WBC.  In many cases the stars are not playing because either their agents or their teams or both didn’t really want them to play.  Let me add that I agree that is their right.  It is also the right of any player to decline.

It just means, however, that the WBC can never really grow or even be a legitimate forum for international baseball.  And is it needed in the first place?

What does the expansion of baseball to Europe, for instance really do?  I know, you are ahead of me here.  It continues the process of possibility generating even more revenue.  By forcing the game on the Europeans maybe it will catch hold.

If that sounds familiar it is the same thing the NFL has been trying to do but with far less success.  Baseball at least has had a foothold in some other countries for years.  Japan, Korea and Taiwan, for example, even have professional leagues.  So does Mexico.  Other Carribean nations have heavy winter league professional play and great summer amateur programs.  Things are much more scattered in Europe outside of The Netherlands and Italy.  Why push for anything more?  If Europeans want to embrace baseball they can.  If not live and let live.

But the money pot is out there.  It is as simple as that.  The NFL has staged games in London during the regular season.  They are one-time spectaculars that draw nice crowds.  But the NFL is kidding itself if they think they are any more than that.  American football is a novelty.  Soccer, or the original football, is the top game.  That won’t ever change.

Still we hear comments about expansion of the NFL to Europe (they tried that once on a minor league level and it was a dollar drain) and a real World Series between the Japanese champion and the U.S. champion.  We can wait until the MLB players union is brought in on that before we consider it likely.

The one sport that might have the best chance to cracking Europe is basketball.  Already with pro leagues and some good players it would not be a stretch to think an NBA-Europe could someday stand as a legitimate rival to the NBA.  But the NBA would have a hard time being as strong in Asia outside of China.  And the NFL, or American football in general, is tied in so closely to being played in high schools and colleges in the U.S. which serve as a feeder system that does not exist elsewhere it cannot succeed on a high enough level.

There just will never be a sport to capture the world as broadly as soccer no matter how hard MLB, NFL and NBA leaders would like to try.  Let us just let things alone.

The best example of a major world sport is what soccer has not tried to do in the United States.  No major leagues from Europe have moved in to consider adding a franchise.  Big name teams from Europe or elsewhere around the world who have played games in the U.S. have been treated to huge crowds.  But it has not made soccer a contender to join the current Big Three (plus hockey) in the U.S.   Major League Soccer is number five and probably considerably lower than that if one separates pro football and basketball and college football and basketball into separate categories.

Those big time soccer match-ups are just like the NFL games in London.  Great spectacles, but not enough to chance the face of sport on either side of the pond.

Even the wizards of marketing and sales cannot make fans love a game they have to learn from scratch.

Keep playing the WBC if you wish.   It does not match the best against the best but the pretty good against the pretty good.  They may be OK.  But if the organizers really want to push the envelope how about one of the opening series being staged in Europe in 2017.  That would be a nice test.

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About gregclucas

Author, "Baseball-Its More Than a Game" available through Amazon.com, BN.com or by order. Veteran sportscaster with extensive play by play experience in MLB, NBA and college sports. "Houston to Cooperstown- The Houston Astros' Biggio & Bagwell Years" is available at many Barnes and Noble stores, Costco, Sam's Club and other selected locations. Also can be ordered through Amazon as hard copy of Kindle.
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