Britons have long been accustomed to sitting through lengthy, drawn out sporting events, with action often only occurring in short bursts.
The final of the 2019 World Snooker Championships, held in the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, took place over four sessions, spanning two days.
Then there’s cricket, which takes things to a whole new level. Test matches last up to five days – interlaced with lunch, tea and drinks – and even then, much to the amusement of the majority of non-cricketing nations, the result can still be a draw.
This summer British fans of slow sport will get an additional taste of bat and ball action – the MLB is coming to the UK with the New York Yankees taking on the Boston Red Sox in a two-game series across the weekend of June 29-30 at West Ham United’s London Stadium.
Keeping fans interested
Cultivating an appreciation of baseball in the UK is very much top of BaseballSoftballUK CEO John Boyd’s agenda.
“The experience isn’t just relying on the atmosphere in the stadium and idea of ‘Americana’ or hotdogs and crackerjack,” Boyd told CNN Sport. “But it is important to get fans to value and appreciate the product on the field for what it is.
“Crudely put, the Yankees vs. Red Sox are notoriously long games. They’re also very skilled teams. So there is a potential for it to be a five-and-a-half hour game.
“And if you fill that stadium with the new generation of fans who are only there for the NY logo and looking cool, then will they really be returning fans? And how do we make sure that their experiences are topnotch and appreciative of the sport?”
Team GB’s first pitcher to play in the MLB is Michael Roth, who played for the Los Angeles Angels and the Chicago Cubs. Born in Greenville, South Carolina to an American father and an English mother – Roth admits that baseball “isn’t the most accessible sport for kids and families compared to some of its counterparts.”
He adds: “I think baseball as a whole is in an interesting point in its life. Baseball can be a long game with few spurts of action and it has struggled lately to increase its fans in the younger demographic.
“I think baseball will need to come up with new ways to market the game and its players while sticking with the rich tradition.”
In bringing the Red Sox and the Yankees to London, the MLB has decided to follow the path previously trodden by the NFL and NBA in showcasing those sports with competitive matches in the UK.
Between them, the Red Sox and Yankees have won 36 World Series, (the Red Sox are the reigning champions), and they represent two of the most highly recognized brands not only in the US, but also in world sport.
“There is no better baseball than when the Red Sox play the Yankees,” Joshua Mills-Knutsen, co-director of youth baseball at the London Mets – a baseball team based in Britain’s capital – told CNN Sport. “I mean that not just from the quality of players, but because of the history and drama that these two teams bring to the field.
“People should be excited they get to see this game in a location that’s neither New York nor Boston, and they are.
“People in our club are arranging holidays around the Series, and when people I just met find out I coach baseball, the Series is the first thing they want to talk about. It’s a very big deal, and I think the British public understand that and are responding.”
Reconnecting with the history
Although baseball is a major sport in the US, its origins lie in Surrey, England, with the first recorded mention of ‘bass-ball’ being dated to 9th September 1749.
In an attempt to honor that heritage, BaseballSoftballUK will install a blue plaque – a permanent sign to link the people of the past with the buildings of the present – in Walton-on-Thames on July 7 to mark where the first baseball game was ever played.
Despite baseball’s relatively low profile in the UK, Mills-Knutsen believes that there is a huge untapped market here for the MLB.
“I’m a bit biased, of course, but there’s room for baseball in the UK,” said Mills-Knutsen. “Because baseball is a fantastic sport that combines intellect and athletics in a unique way.
“I suspect anyone who enjoyed cricket would find common ground with baseball, but what really matters is that the British are generally sports fans. They’ve taken to the NFL because it’s has a great product.
“MLB has a great product too and the more the British get to know it, the more they’ll love it.”
Mills-Knutsen has been going to MLB games in San Diego since he was three years old. But when he moved from Jeffersonville, Indiana to London, he was concerned that his young son wouldn’t be able to find a place to play the game.
As it turns out, he needn’t have worried.
“The longer I’m here, the more I see signs of the sport,” he said. “Not only do the Mets host both youth and adult players, but there are quite a few clubs around southern England for us to play.
“More than that, within our youth, you can see what was once mostly expats, is giving way to homegrown British kids taken with