Take Me Out to the Ball Game: How London’s MLB Series Showed the Benefits of Hosting Games Abroad

To say that hosting competitive league games abroad is a contentious point of discussion across European football right now is to escalate the meaning of ‘contentious’ to ‘utterly toxic’.  Which is why, obviously, I should argue for its merits. That’s always fun and has no chance of descending into a Twitter beef. Not one single chance. And look, I get it. Football, and this is across the continent, has already done more than enough to remove the game from its various roots. From pricing ‘true’ fans out, to scheduling irregular kick-off times to accommodate an ever-insatiable TV schedule, to shamelessly attempting to ‘go viral’ at any given moment with a ‘cool tweet’, football clubs are undeniably the worst, and the systems that house them aren’t much better.  BUT That does not mean that taking yet more away from the domestic fan in the shape of one whole competitive league game has to be the end of football as we know it. It is not impossible to empathise with those on the other side and, having been on that side on Saturday, I can tell you it’s pretty great. That’s right, Saturday night – and it really was night by the time it was all said and done, all four hours and 42 minutes of it – represented the first time Major League Baseball had come to the United Kingdom, let alone Europe. And it was an unmitigated, unrelentingly sweltering success. As an intrigued, but not ardent MLB fan, Saturday night’s feverish affair was exactly what I needed to get over the is-it-actually-just-a-more-boring-version-of-cricket hump. Now I’ve got the bug. The itch that only the feeling of enveloping yourself in a new sport can scratch. And it’s a unique feeling in sport, that moment where you give yourself over to a new game, the honeymoon period where all its quirks and oddities and outdated rulings seem charming, where DJ LeMahieu becomes your new best friend because of his unexpected love for ‘Gunna’ and Mookie Betts enthrals you with his impish smile and Aaron Judge astounds you with his alien physique. And it’s not just new fans who get to feel the buzz; expatriated patrons can feel a similar buzz when seeing their hometown side cruise over to their shores on a tide of excitement, while those fans who have grown up restricted to the sidelines of social media can, for once in their life, not be denigrated for being a ‘plastic’ whose opinion is unworthy because they don’t go to games. So, why would you want to deprive a fellow human of that feeling, just because they don’t live in the same country as you? Why would you not want the stars that make you smile make others, in a distant but not that different land, smile? Yes, we already have pre-season tours, but as any self-respecting fan who’s been to a pre-season game will tell you, it’s not the same. Youth Player #34 is not the same as Mohamed Salah, and pre-season Mohamed Salah is not the same as mid-season Mohamed Salah. Even with the sparkling marketing tagline that is ‘club football’s premier summer tournament’, the International Champions Cup is not the Champions League. It never will be. There is no more accurate insult in sport than the label ‘friendly’. ‘Friendly’ is not what self-respecting fans want to see. ‘Friendly’ does not translate to fandom.  But, one – and I’m only advocating for one – sold out competitive fixture, be it La Liga, Serie A, ​Premier League, Bundesliga, hell, I’m sure you could have Ligue 1 if you wanted it, could offer that feeling to between 60,000 and 90,000 people.  Maybe, just maybe, losing one Saturday from your season is a worthwhile sacrifice. Let’s be honest, it would probably be a Friday nighter anyway.

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