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Friday, June 14, 2024

MLB Forges Ahead With Global Tour, Aims to Clear European Hurdles

  • The London Series with the Mets and Phillies coincides with a Dodgers-Yankees matchup in New York.
  • Shohei Ohtani and Aaron Judge will play against each other for the first time this year.
Peter van den Berg-USA TODAY Sports

MLB’s international push will take another big step this weekend, one also coinciding with one of the biggest matchups of the entire regular season. 

The Mets and Phillies will play a series Saturday and Sunday at London Stadium (above), home of the Premier League’s West Ham United. The event, part of the ongoing MLB World Tour, is the third set of games in London following Yankees–Red Sox in 2019 and Cubs-Cardinals last year

The U.K. games also follow those MLB played in South Korea and in Mexico to start this season. But unlike Asia and Latin America, where baseball fandom already is extensive, the league’s efforts to develop the sport in Europe have been more of an uphill climb. Along those lines, prior plans to play next year in Paris have already been canceled. The presence of the large-market Phillies and Mets—and their uber-popular mascots—in London is seen as a big step forward.

“We’ve clearly identified the U.K. as a priority market and an area that we plan to emphasize for international growth,” Chris Marinak, MLB chief operations and strategy officer, told the Associated Press.

Major Star Power 

While those games are happening in London, an arguably bigger event is occurring back in New York as the Dodgers visit the Yankees for a three-game weekend series. The slate marks the one meeting this season of two of the league’s most popular teams. 

With MLB’s balanced schedule format that began last year, every team now plays every other one during the regular season. But this Los Angeles–New York matchup brings together Shohei Ohtani and Aaron Judge—by many accounts the game’s two most popular figures—for the first time since the Japanese phenom signed a record-setting $700 million free-agent contract with the Dodgers during the offseason. It’s also the Dodgers’ first visit to Yankee Stadium since 2016, when Judge was a late-season rookie call-up.

Media Logistics

Saturday’s Dodgers-Yankees game will be shown nationally in prime time on Fox, forming a baseball doubleheader of sorts with earlier coverage of the first Mets-Phillies game, and horse racing’s Belmont Stakes in between. ESPN will have a similar high-profile grouping the next day with the second MLB game from London, and then the Dodgers and Yankees on Sunday Night Baseball.

“We’re looking forward to a monster weekend,” Andy Jacobson, ESPN producer, tells Front Office Sports. “Baseball is absolutely getting center stage this weekend, and we’re really excited to be part of it. For London, a lot of the content we’re developing will really be celebrating baseball and this new international frontier. We leaned big into that in Seoul, and will do so again here.”

Both networks, however, are anxiously awaiting news on star Yankees outfielder Juan Soto, who exited Thursday’s game against the Twins with forearm tightness and is set to undergo imaging Friday. 

For ESPN, meanwhile, there will also be a bit of intranetwork competition as the Sunday prime-time baseball game—to be preceded by a network sit-down interview with Judge—will parallel coverage of Game 2 of the NBA Finals on sister network ABC. 

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