ROUNDING THE DIAMOND | Can Baseball Win Over Cricket Fanatics? – The Hoya

We often think of baseball as America’s game, and rightfully so, but as we have seen in some more recent issues of Rounding the Diamond, baseball is global. From Japan to Cuba, it seems like all parts of the world have taken a liking to the game — that is, except for the Middle East and South Asia, where cricket is the game to beat.

On Oct. 23, 2023, 50-year-old Bartolo Colon and 41-year-old Robinson Cano were just some of the former Major League Baseball (MLB) players drafted to Baseball United, baseball’s newest league and the first one based in the Middle East and South Asia. The inaugural season, which is set to begin in the fall of 2024, will include four teams: the Mumbai Cobras, the Karachi Monarchs, the Dubai Wolves and the Abu Dhabi Falcons

The league’s mission to “inspire one billion new fans to fall in love with baseball” is certainly easier said than done. Obviously, the biggest challenge is that there already exists a religiously followed bat and ball game in India, Pakistan and the UAE — cricket. Over 300 million viewers watched last year’s Cricket World Cup final between India and Australia — by contrast, last year’s World Series maxed out at 11 million viewers. 

“Major League Baseball is over 150 years old and has so much romance and pageantry,” Kash Shaikh, Co-Owner and CEO of Baseball United, told the Associated Press. “And, you know, it’s one of the few American sports that have yet to be exported to this part of the world.” 

Shaikh hopes Baseball United’s new rules will help draw some cricket fans to baseball. The foremost change is the introduction of what the league is calling the “moneyball.” Each manager will have three opportunities per game to designate a “moneyball” when their team is at bat, and if their batters hit a home run before an out or another hit, the team gets twice as many runs. Teams will also have the ability to utilize a designated runner three times per game, and tied games will be determined by a one-on-one home run derby after the ninth inning.

Do I think these new rules could help attract new baseball fans? Ultimately, yes, but only if there is sufficient talent to make them worthwhile. I can envision the “moneyball” and the extra-inning rules actually hurting the popularity of the game if the league fails to attract enough power hitters and thus never fully realizes the potential of such arcade-esque rules. Essentially, if the designated runners aren’t noticeably faster or the hitters are not strong enough to put on an entertaining showing during the extra-inning derby, then the rules become unnecessary gunk. 

Still, Baseball United’s talent pool could benefit from some of the same wealth that spent over $220 billion on hosting soccer’s World Cup in Qatar in 2022 as well as signing Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo to mega-contract deals. I wouldn’t be surprised if some bigger free agent names came to play in Baseball United in the next few years if the league sees any modicum of success. 

“Investing in sports teams is like the new gold,” Barry Larkin, former Hall of Fame MLB player and a current co-owner and board member of Baseball United, said. “Sports franchises either hold their value or increase in value.”

Although I’m excited for a new part of the world to get a taste of baseball, I certainly don’t have the same level of confidence as Larkin. I think of the lack of popularity of Major League Rugby in the U.S. as a prime example of a league failing to compete with its more popular alternative (football) in the same country. 

Ultimately, it will be up to fans in the region whether or not baseball takes off where it has never ventured before.

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