Major League Baseball chief stresses London commitment on UK return

Major League Baseball chief stresses London commitment on UK return

Major League Baseball (MLB) commissioner Rob Manfred emphasised the league’s commitment to playing games in London as he announced the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies will face off in the third MLB London Series next summer.

This weekend’s two games between the St Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs at London Stadium mark MLB’s delayed return to Britain following its 2019 debut after a planned 2020 series was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Manfred has been impressed by the sport’s reception in the UK, which will host again in 2026, viewing the country as critical to the sport’s global growth.

He said: “To us London is a really important part of our international strategy. We have seen great growth in baseball. Since we were here in 2019 the number of people in Britain that identify as fans has doubled.

“We are committed to London as part of our programme, and I’m happy to announce we will be back next year with the Mets and Phillies.

“London is a great sports town, and I think because there’s sort of a natural affinity for sport here in London it’s a great place to gain a foothold into Europe.

“Secondly I do think, just for historical reasons, there’s a special affinity between Great Britain and the United States. We understand baseball is a uniquely American phenomenon in some ways, but if you are trying to internationalise starting in friendly territory seems like a good plan.”

A Paris series is also planned for 2025.

Manfred was not keen to speculate beyond 2026, when MLB’s current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) expires.

Any future series in London or elsewhere would fall under the next deal, part of the reason the commissioner believes player satisfaction is critical to ensuring teams want to make the trip across the pond in the middle of gruelling 162-game seasons.

Manfred said: “I will say this. The players who came in 2019 found the event, the experience to be a really positive one, and the key to making London a recurring part of the event is making sure that the players have a great trip, that they enjoy themselves while they are here, and we’re working very hard to make sure that happens this time around.”

The two clubhouse dressing rooms for this series will become a permanent fixture at West Ham’s Premier League home and will feature as part of stadium tours.

London Stadium will host two more series in 2024 and 2026
London Stadium will host two more series in 2024 and 2026 (Bradley Collyer/PA)

MLB has retained its “old rivalry, new ground” motto for this year’s series, a concept Manfred says is critical to drawing British crowds.

He said: “We think our game is at its best when we have traditional rivals playing and we want to show fans the very best form of baseball.”

Chase Utley won the World Series with Philadelphia in 2008, and since last summer has lived in London as an “ambassador” for MLB.

While the Cubs, Cardinals, Phillies and Mets might not have the immediate brand recognition of 2019 opponents the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, Utley promised British fans would be just as captivated.

He said: “Obviously it’s lasted a long time, and I think we’ve just had some really good teams at the same time, so we were always fighting for the postseason.

“It’s an intense crowd when you’re in New York, and when you’re in Philadelphia you definitely know where you are. Fantastic players over the years.

“It’s a true rivalry. It doesn’t get much better.”