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MLB unveils partnership to help grow game in China

League teams up with BEREGL to develop new facilities
MLB.com @Marathoner

China's interest in baseball is at unprecedented levels and growing fast. Baseball is now played in more than 80 colleges and universities there, double the number from six years ago, and more than 40 new baseball facilities have been built in the past year by local governments and individuals. Nearly a billion viewers can now watch Major League Baseball game broadcasts and related TV shows on a national network, China Education Television.

Given that appetite for more, MLB and Beijing Enterprises Real-Estate Group Ltd. (BEREGL), a top Chinese state-owned enterprise, on Friday announced a 10-year relationship to grow the sport in China. The new relationship is designed to result in a significant increase in baseball facilities, meeting the country's growing demand as participation keeps rising.

China's interest in baseball is at unprecedented levels and growing fast. Baseball is now played in more than 80 colleges and universities there, double the number from six years ago, and more than 40 new baseball facilities have been built in the past year by local governments and individuals. Nearly a billion viewers can now watch Major League Baseball game broadcasts and related TV shows on a national network, China Education Television.

Given that appetite for more, MLB and Beijing Enterprises Real-Estate Group Ltd. (BEREGL), a top Chinese state-owned enterprise, on Friday announced a 10-year relationship to grow the sport in China. The new relationship is designed to result in a significant increase in baseball facilities, meeting the country's growing demand as participation keeps rising.

The agreement was announced at a news conference in Beijing, attended by members of the Chinese government, BEREGL, MLB China and some of the top baseball players in the country.

"We are thrilled to have a strategic alliance with Major League Baseball that seeks to enhance the playing level of professional baseball teams in China," said BEREGL chairman Qian Xu. "This new relationship with MLB also will seek to provide Chinese youth with new facilities to participate in this great game while advancing their education and learning valuable life lessons."

"This relationship with BEREGL will seek to accelerate our growth and to provide first-rate facilities and coaching for the increasing number of Chinese baseball players," said Jim Small, MLB vice president, Asia Pacific. "We are honored to team up with one of China's most forward-thinking, innovative and successful companies as we build momentum for baseball in the country."

Having accumulated resources and experiences in participating in the venue construction for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, BEREGL seeks to team with MLB to build nearly two dozen MLB-branded baseball facilities throughout China. Up to 20 of the new projects would be MLB-BEREGL Baseball Development Centers, which would provide world-class facilities for talented Chinese student athletes in grades 7-12, combining a mainstream school curriculum with baseball skills development.

MLB would consult on facility design, field management and operations based on its experiences with creating, managing and renovating baseball fields and facilities around the world.

MLB currently maintains three development centers in China (Wuxi, Changzhou and Nanjing), and those helped three graduates sign contracts with MLB clubs including "Itchy" Xu Guiyuan (Orioles), Hai-Cheng Gong (Pirates) and Justin Qiangba (Red Sox). In the past four years, 36 players have graduated and advanced to play collegiate baseball in the U.S., China, Taiwan and Korea. Eleven alumni are members of the China National Team and 12 are playing professionally in the China Baseball League.

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MLB will continue to arrange for visiting professional players and coaches to provide instruction for teams and players at all levels of Chinese baseball. Past MLB visiting instructors have included Prince Fielder, Curtis Granderson, Mark Melancon, Jeremy Guthrie and Jim Lefebvre. In addition, the two organizations intend to work together to market and promote the sport in China.

China Education Television has enabled a massive viewership following a deal completed earlier this year. The baseball-themed series, "Boyhood," which featured the popular boy band TF Boys, was the top-rated television show in its time slot in primetime and accumulated more than 5 billion online views.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com and a baseball writer since 1990. Follow him on Twitter @Marathoner.