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MLB scraps 2020 Asia season-opener to focus on European push

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred has scrapped plans to open the league’s 2020 season in Asia to focus on a push into the European market.

This year, MLB started its season in Tokyo for the fifth time, with a two-game series between the Oakland A’s and the Seattle Mariners at the Tokyo Dome. It was the eighth time that MLB has played its season opener internationally, having opened in Monterrey, Mexico (1999); Tokyo (2000, 2004, 2008, 2012); San Juan, Puerto Rico (2001); and Sydney, Australia (2014).

MLB’s current collective bargaining agreement with the players union similarly called for 2020 season-opening games in Asia. But following the New York Yankees’ two-game series with the Boston Red Sox in London at the weekend, MLB and the union are focusing on European expansion. It has already been announced that the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals will play in London in the summer of 2020.

“I would like to have sustained play in Europe,” Manfred said. “I’m glad we’re coming back next year. I’d like to be back after that. But I am interested in having play in other cities in Europe.”

Manfred would not identify which cities interest him. “We’re really at a very preliminary point. They key thing with any city is the facility,” he said. “A lot of people will tell you they can build a ballpark. Until you get on the ground and figure whether a particular facility can be configured for baseball, it’s just premature to get into other cities.”

Next year’s MLB international play plan, as detailed in the labor deal, also includes games in Mexico, and either Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic.

The Yankees’ series against the Red Sox in London proved a huge success, with 118,718 fans attending the two matches at the London Stadium. Seventy per cent of tickets were sold in Britain, with 30 per cent in the US, mainly from Red Sox and Yankees season-ticket holders.

“We’re trying to bring baseball to the UK, so that 70 per cent is important to us,” Manfred said. “That 30 per cent is our most loyal, devoted, interested fan base, and the fact that those people want to travel either from New York or Boston to see a Yankee-Red Sox game, it’s not bad news for us, either.”

According to USA Today, MLB will look to ramp up its marketing efforts in 2020 by bringing over Cubs and Cardinals players during the winter and increasing the number of MLB retail stores around London.