As the future of baseball goes into limbo, I thought I’d share some of my hopes and dreams. I know it’s not everyone’s utopia, but I would love to see baseball more integrated on a global level. The paths I see are national competitions, club competitions and international streaming.
Streaming - A huge step is for MLB.TV to consolidate global streaming rights for out of market audiences with a major emphasis on playoffs and highlights. This will create essential distribution, marketing and sponsorship infrastructure for a more integrated global audience. It will also increase revenue in foreign leagues. The additional revenue and global spotlight will support more talent acquisition. In the beginning this would look like more marginal major leaguers moving to foreign leagues. It would also mean more global competition for contracts and increased earnings.
Talent - Another huge step would be to restructure talent sharing. I’d like to see foreign and minor league players opt into international trade availability so that we begin to see more international trades. Having shut down so many American minor league teams, we should already be seeing more would be MiLB players pursuing opportunities in foreign leagues, which should support the improvement of talent levels.
The World Baseball Classic could become an International All Star Tournament. National baseball is great, and the strength of Venezuela, Cuba, Mexico, Japan, South Korea, the Netherlands and the United States means that there are competitive national teams across top leagues on four continents. These could be big tournaments, but spring training and off season baseball doesn’t mean anything. The only way I see to make this tournament matter is to make it mid season, which means making it the All Star Break, which means country-specific all star teams. Imagine, in the middle of the season, instead of an all star break, you have all the world’s major leagues align their all star breaks so that they can play a tournament of national teams. The top 16 national teams in the world in 4 single-game rounds hosted by a different international league each year. A world-wide Home Run Derby. And an election of the global all star team at the end of the tournament. Not only would this mix all the major international audiences at the height of their seasons while mixing MLB and International players on the same teams – it would also offer major revenue boosts for the other qualifying leagues, which would increase budgets, which would make them more competitive when it comes to talent acquisition. At the same time, this would likely result in more demand for high profile international trades while increasing interest in playoffs around the world (streamed by MLB.TV). When an aging MLB star takes a contract at the end of his career to play in a domestic league (Japan, Venezuela, etc.) they might continue to make the National All Star Team and play in front of the international audience. You hope this kind of thing carries audiences across boundaries.
The World Series could become a global competition that includes teams from other leagues around the world. To this end, I would not have the winners of the NLCS and ALCS compete directly for the World Series. I would have them enter new Playoff round that includes the top two teams in the world’s top leagues. To select these teams, I would propose a Champions League style round for playoff spots between the winners of domestic leagues in regional categories that, over time, morphs into new Major Leagues.
Champions League – I would start with major tournaments in S./C. America and the Pacific Rim between winners of the domestic leagues. This would be going on while the NL and AL playoff rounds are going on. Winners would qualify for the final round of the playoffs.
From Champions’ League to New MLB Leagues – Over time, these tournaments could morph into new major leagues – one in C. & S. America that featured Mexico and Cuba while another is in the Pacific Rim that features Japan and S. Korea. With access to next level competition and revenues, my expectation is that you would see more and more mid-season and international trades in addition to raising budgets and talent levels. In the leap from a champions league to a new MLB, you could add teams in huge cities that exist in small countries like Singapore or Kingston. These new leagues would simplify the challenges of international drafting and trading.
Exhibition Season & Interleague play - I would want Spring Training to be more like an exhibition season. I’d love to see every team split their spring training between the US and a foreign league. If an MLB league was forged in the Pacific Rim or Latin America, there could be interleague games with them.
Award Ceremony - I’d also like to see some world-wide awards like Home Run king, best play, etc. It would also be fantastic to integrate Hall of Fame Databases in some way.
Global Baseball – Between the integration of streaming rights and highlight coverage, a more international exhibition season, an all star world baseball classic, champions league style qualifiers for the MLB post season and an international world series there would be a much larger and more integrated global fan base, way more money in the sport and much bigger international budgets. Over time, these larger international budgets combined with access to the global audience and top tournaments would result in top teams in foreign domestic leagues that can compete with the MLB. I can even imagine a world where we see new Major Leagues launched to the South and West of the US. As a baseball fan, this is what I’d love to see!