They have done it. Finally gone too far. Sometimes you’re not exactly sure where the proverbial line is until it’s crossed, and then you know it. And so here it is:
Yankees-Red Sox in London.
Say it ain’t so! Except it is so. The pinnacle of America’s Pastime, the single best, most iconic rivalry that sports in the United States has, is exporting itself to London for two games in 2019. MLB announced it with a flourish Tuesday, as if it were a good thing. It isn’t. It is a ridiculous thing.
And it should tell you that what’s left that is untouchable and sacred is this: Absolutely nuthin’, apparently.
Why stop with Yankees-Red Sox? Let’s just play a Super Bowl at Wembley Stadium and get it over with. How about Great Britain borrows The Masters from Augusta next year, too. What else can we do for you, London? Oh you would fancy having the Daytona 500, would you? No problem!
Playing occasional games outside the United States began as a novelty (blame the NFL) but has metastasized into a regular thing, and gone from exhibitions to real games that count. The displaced teams’ biggest fans are the ones who get cheated, and to what end? So baseball can grow the reach of its merchandise sales?
The internet has dissolved borders when it comes to following sports beyond one’s own country. I follow English Premier League soccer at a local British pub or online (Go Everton!), and it’s just as easy for Londoners to follow the Yankees or LeBron James or anything else major in American sports.
We don’t have to send our games overseas. Yet we continue to.
The Dodgers and Padres played last week in Mexico, after the Indians and Twins played in Puerto Rico. The Mariners and A’s will open the 2019 season in Tokyo before Boston and New York visit that summer. More London games are planned for 2020.
The NFL has been importing regular-season games to London since 2007. The NBA in many ways is leading the trend of American sports globalizing itself. It is said there are more NBA fans in China than in the United States.
The practice of exporting games makes a certain business sense but does no good for American fans of the teams. It does harm, especially in football, where fans can be shortchanged one of only eight home games.
There is no reciprocity, and don’t tell me about soccer events imported to U.S. soil such as this summer’s International Champions Cup at Hard Rock Stadium. Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Manchester City and Manchester United will be there, but for dressed-up exhibitions, glorified friendlies, in a made-up tournament.
We’re continuing to export games that count as our leagues continue to forget that their loyalty is to their fans at home, not to potential customers overseas. The growing number of regular-season games exported outside the U.S. is now at 34 in the NFL, 27 in the NBA and 23 in MLB.
For Red Sox versus Yankees, “away game” should mean a 200-mile trip to the most anticipated event of the season in Boston or New York, not a journey of 3,400 miles and a passport to pander to a bunch of folks who would rather be watching soccer.