LONDON -- Commissioner Rob Manfred was thrilled to see his dream of an MLB game in Europe become a reality on Saturday, as the Red Sox and Yankees squared off in the opener of the two-game London Series.
“I’m really excited to have our first game in London finally go off. It’s a renewal of our greatest rivalry,” said Manfred. “It’s a great way to bring Major League Baseball to the UK for the first time. We have a beautiful day and a heck of a facility that our staff has put together so I’m really looking forward to getting going.”
The Cubs and Cardinals are already locked in to play the second London Series on June 13-14, 2020. Manfred said the success of this weekend and next year will determine if MLB will come back to London for ’21.
Manfred also expressed his desire to play regular-season games in other European cities.
“Whether or not we play in Europe in 2021 will be a product of how the next couple years go,” Manfred said. “My own view is that I would like to have sustained play in Europe. I’m thrilled to be in London. I’m glad to be coming back next year but I’m also interested in playing in other cities in Europe.”
Growing the game in Europe continues to be a big goal for Manfred, who is enthused that roughly 70 percent of the tickets that were sold this weekend were purchased in the UK.
“The fact that we sold these games out and did it as quickly as we did is an indicator of the level of interest and demand in the game,” Manfred said. “We’re hoping we can sustain that through next year’s game. We’re hoping broadcast partners in the UK enjoy the viewership. Maybe most importantly, the Yankees did a great youth event on Thursday and that’s indicative that there is play, broadly defined, of baseball here in the UK, and we’d like to see continued growth in that area as well.”
He looks at the brisk ticket sales as a sign that the game has the potential to have increasing appeal to both fans and players in Europe.
“We look at two distinct areas,” Manfred said. “One is fan engagement. That is, when we’re playing, do we have fans coming to the game, demand for tickets? We have a lot of games available on broadcast in Europe. MLB.TV is available as well. The more engagement we have on those platforms, the better it is. We’re looking for that engagement.
“The second path is the player-development path. I don’t think people realize we have 20 players from Europe under contract with Major League organizations. We'd like to see that number grow. Obviously when you have a European player making his mark in the Major Leagues, it drives interest among the people in that country and it’s really important for us. I’d hope to see growth in both those areas.”