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MLB Takes Strides To Reach International Markets

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

With a greater intrigue for international participation, MLB looks to expand their reach and go global.

Baseball has long been known as America’s Pastime. Yet, baseball itself has expanded far beyond the corners of the United States, reaching an array of countries who share the same passion for the game. This passion is why Major League Baseball has taken significant initiative, for players and fans alike, in promoting international growth. 

In recent months, MLB has launched separate international campaigns in hopes of branching out towards a much wider demographic. Just last month, eight major league players accompanied the MLBPA on a trip to Cuba to explore the recently opened island for cultural and commercial purposes. 

With the American and Cuban government’s recent attempt at reconciliation by lifting the embargo, future economic possibilities are apparent and on the horizon. As Alden Gonzalez of MLB Network reported, this first step has greatly impacted the people of Cuba:

This trip, in particular, was made to represent MLB’s involvement in the expansion movement with the ever-looming hopeful future surrounding Cuban prospects. However, defecting from this nation has become the only way to seek refuge for so many Cuban citizens. With MLB’s desire to pursue ventures in Cuba, the likelihood of those unsafe, uncertain options for those athletes will significantly decrease.

The ultimate goal is to establish the proper avenues to ensure players and their families make it safely to the U.S. to pursue their lifelong dreams. In many ways, Cuba’s role within the culture of baseball is an ideal opportunity that has been recognized by MLB and the MLBPA

“The Players and the MLBPA remain committed to growing the game globally — both in terms of participation and popularity — by working closely with MLB to strategically identify opportunities and locations that have the potential to provide long-term support and sustainability for the sport. What may eventually occur in this area in 2016 is the result of the sport’s dedication to exposing the world to the great game of baseball, and we expect this growth to continue year after year.” - MLBPA spokesman Greg Bouris in a statement to FOX Sports.

But, while Cuba remains the subject of vast fascination and debate, political obstacles have yet to be ironed out.

Around the World

With MLB’s push for expansion, a significant step was taken earlier this week within the international market. Le Sports, an internet-based sports company, partnered with Major League Baseball and reached a three-year deal to stream MLB games to China for the first time.

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Through this new deal, China, Hong Kong and Macau will receive 125 broadcasted MLB games per season. These exclusive rights held by Le Sports also includes Mandarin-language programming through mobile apps and various devices.

The influx of games provided will include a variety of packages that include four weekly HD games, twenty HD postseason games, the Home Run Derby, the All-Star Game, and all World Series games. Not only will Le Sports be live streaming these games, but they will be rebroadcasted on demand as well.

Depending on the ratings produced this year, Le Sports has hinted about the possibility of more regular season games being added to the schedule for the future.

H.Darr Beiser-USA TODAY Sports

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred was the driving force behind this new partnership as he continues to push for global growth throughout the league. This new agreement supports a long-term strategy often vocalized by the Commissioner as he aggressively strives to motivate MLB’s influence within international markets:

“This historic partnership with Le Sports exemplifies Major League Baseball’s diversified approach to serving international communities. We are delighted to showcase Major League games in Mandarin throughout the distinctive, ever-growing ecosystem of Le Sports devices and apps. China is a crucial frontier for the development of baseball. Our new, prominent place on Le Sports platforms both reaffirms and expands our commitment to growing the game in China.”

The reception of these recent developments will shed light on what was once missing from Chinese culture: baseball was banned from 1966 through 1976. Since that time, a reintroduction of the game has been a focal point for many MLB officials. In 2009, a development center was opened where teenage players train for baseball activities on nights and weekends, while attending school and living in on-campus dormitories.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

As we’ve seen with alternative platforms such as the International Baseball Federation, World Baseball Classic, and the Olympic Games, baseball is very much a universal sport. At the start of the 2015 season, 230 out of the 868 players on Opening Day rosters (active and inactive) were born outside the U.S. This number equates to 26.5% of the league and represents 17 outside countries, the most MLB has seen since 2001.

The future and influence of baseball can be seen and heard all over the world, and both MLB officials and the MLB Player’s Association are paying close attention. The recent strides taken by MLB merely highlight the desire and brewing support behind the movement. 

Incorporating players and fans from many nations creates a much more diverse pool of individuals who all share a common goal. With all of the upcoming changes and transitions, international progress is imminently on the horizon.

Edited by Jeremy Losak, Julian Boireau.

Who was the first player signed from the league's Chinese Development Program?
Created 1/8/16
  1. Jung-Ho Kang
  2. Xu Guiyuan
  3. Masanori Murakami
  4. Hideo Nomo

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