Baseball, the great American game — or is it? Especially in the age of the internet, more fast-paced games like basketball and American football have been encroaching on the MLB’s popularity in the United States. MLB viewership has been declining over the last 40 years or so, points out sports commentator Keith Olbermann.
Because it is not as popular as it once was in the United States and it is always looking to capture more fans, the MLB is seriously considering expanding to include Mexico and other parts of Latin America in the near future.
There are several reasons the MLB would love to take on Mexico or another Latin American nation rather than another geographically close country like, say, Canada.
The first is that baseball is already very popular in many Latin American cultures, a fact on which MLB would love to capitalize. Jayhawk notes that baseball may be even more popular in Mexico and similar countries than it is in the U.S., with those cultures never seeming to have undergone the decrease in interest in the sport that United States culture has.
Mexico in particular, says the New York Times, has “one of the world’s richest baseball traditions,” and its well-funded leagues have produced some of the greatest MLB players of all time.
The same New York Times article, however, also asserts that soccer broadcasts are overtaking broadcasts of baseball in the Mexican media, leaving some obvious shoes for the MLB to fill should they push into Mexico.
“We are really interested in Mexico,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred told the Hollywood Reporter. “It’s a huge broadcast market. If we can find the right location, it is possible to support a team in Mexico economically.”
The last point Manfred mentioned — the economic capability to support an MLB franchise — is especially noteworthy. It is what disqualifies countries like Cuba and the Dominican Republic, which are arguably even bigger on baseball than Mexico is, as candidates for MLB teams at this point in time.
In addition to being vast untapped reservoirs of potential MLB fans, Mexico and Latin America are surely full of talent to bring to the MLB. Already, Manfred says, the MLB gets a lot of talented players from those regions — over 25 percent of MLB’s starting lineups are made up of players born outside the U.S., according to the MLB itself, and the vast majority of them are from Latin America.
The presence of MLB teams, as well as the training camps and recruiters that come with them, would enable the league to find even more of Mexico and Latin America’s baseball talent. Manfred has said that the MLB has been having trouble as of late finding enough players to recruit due to a lessening interest in baseball among the nation’s youth, and so the huge shot in the arm the MLB’s recruitment numbers would receive by expanding into Mexico or a similar country would be valuable.
The fans and players the MLB could gain by adopting Mexico or similar countries would indeed be a huge benefit to expansion, but how will it effect the fan landscape in the MLB’s homeland?
Manfred points out that it will drastically increase MLB viewership among Latino Americans, a quickly growing demographic. Pew Research says that Hispanics have made up a key portion of the U.S.’s population growth during the 21st century, and the number of Hispanic Americans has grown more than sixfold since 1970.
“A team in Mexico and a larger number of Mexican players in the big leagues could really help us continue to grow the Hispanic market in the United States,” Manfred told Forbes.
One can already see the MLB beginning to embrace its huge Latin American constituency more fully. Just recently, the league made it a requirement for all MLB teams to have a full-time Spanish-to-English translator on staff, it announced the opening of an office in Mexico City, and it began to televise MLB games on Mexico’s Televisa TV network. It even started to hold MLB exhibition games in Mexico.
Chris Park, MLB’s Senior VP of Growth, Strategy and International, revealed that the skirmishes were just the beginning of the MLB’s Mexican conquest.
“This is the first time in over a decade that we have played games in Mexico City. Hopefully, this is just the first taste of being a regular presence in Mexico City and across the country.”
The first stages of MLB’s Mexico expansion may be upon us already, but there is certainly a long way to go, and Manfred reminds MLB fans that it might take a while.
“The prospects of having a Major League team here in Mexico are realistic. The difficult issue is the time frame.”
What cities in Mexico would you like to see receive MLB teams? Do you have any naming suggestions? Marketing strategy tips? MLB fan or not, leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
[Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images]