Saturday, July 10, 2010

Follow The Bouncing Brawl

The Next World Sporting Event

As the 2010 World Cup nears its conclusion and many avid soccer fans start to go into World Cup withdrawal, I dare to ask how many of these same fans will be gearing up for the next “world” sporting event - the World Baseball Classic in
2013. The answer is probably not too many. Even though the World Baseball Classic is in its infancy compared to the World Cup, the WBC planning committee should feel good about the strides made in generating both American and non-American fan interest to the tournament.

Whether it was fans of Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Korea or the Netherlands, or whether they were native born or naturalized, fans came out in droves to support their team. Their fervor was electric and you could feel the passion they had not only for their team, but also for the sport itself. Unfortunately, outside of the 6-5 do-or-die comeback win that advanced the United States into the semifinals of 2009’s tournament, the passion from the American fans for their team and the tournament was lacking. I don’t think it’s because the average American fan is any less patriotic than a fan from a team like the Dominican Republic or Cuba for example, or is any less ardent about the game. I think the difference has to do with our priorities as sports fans.

Scheduling. I understand the need exists to hold the tournament either before or after the Major League Baseball season, but if I were part of the tournament committee, I would vote to play the WBC after the final game of the World Series. Sure, there may be players tired and a bit beat up, but these same players would be battle tested and in a weird way, less prone to injury because they would have been playing baseball consistently for a full six to seven months. And in the event of an injury, players would have the entire off-season to heal up.

Too Many Sports, Too Little Time. Unlike many of the Latin American, European and Asian countries competing in the WBC and the World Cup, the average American sports fan’s time is spent watching a variety of different major sporting events. There are college basketball conference tournaments going on, the NHL and NBA seasons winding down and playoffs looming, MLB spring training starting up as well as a plethora of golf tournaments all going on at the same time. For the fans from most of the other competing countries, there is one sport that they follow and play religiously right now, and that’s soccer.

Protecting The Investment. During the last WBC, there was a spate of injuries not only to the United States roster but to other MLB baseball players playing in the WBC for other countries. Fans and MLB clubs alike are growing especially antsy. Fans want to make sure their favorite player on their team of choice will be ready for the start of the MLB season. Clubs that have invested lots of money in a David Ortiz or a David Wright for example, also want to be certain that their investments are ready to go and are ready to generate lots of money for their respective organizations.

As a baseball and all-around sports fan, I hope that the WBC continues to grow and thrive and ultimately becomes as big as the World Cup. When you look at teams like those from the Dominican Republic, Japan, Korea, Puerto Rico and Venezuela, you would be amazed to see how many players on these teams are playing in the Major Leagues. The WBC has shown how rapidly baseball is becoming a “global” sport. In the end, as long as the best players from each country are allowed to play and showcase their talent to the rest of the world (and with a little bit of marketing help), fans both from the United States and from other countries will slowly, but surely make their way to the ballpark. A USA win in the next tournament couldn’t hurt either.

- Hamilton Maher

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