Major League Baseball Seeks To Score International Fans

The LA Dodgers play the Arizona Diamondbacks this weekend in Australia. Major League Baseball hopes to broaden the sport's international appeal.

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The Major League Baseball season begins Saturday, but it maybe just diehards watching the opening game live from Sydney, Australia. It starts at 1 AM Pacific Time. The L.A. Dodgers play the and Arizona Diamondbacks. And then our, beer and peanuts may be for some - I don't know, caffeine might be better for others. The National League rivals are playing a two-game Opening Series down under.

NPR's Tom Goldman reports on baseball's latest attempt to win over international hearts and minds.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: The SCG, Sydney Cricket Ground, is hallowed cricket ground.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: It's renowned throughout the sporting world; an arena like no other, where the old and the new sit side by side.

GOLDMAN: And what a shock of news this week, it as the SCG was re-introduced as the SBS - Sydney Baseball Stadium.

WILL SWANTON: There's probably a few traditionalists who weren't too sure about, you know, whether our sacred old ground should be touched like that.

GOLDMAN: Will Swanton is a sports journalist for the Australian newspaper, in Sydney.

SWANTON: But it was unveiled on Monday, and it looks spectacular.

GOLDMAN: A reported 250 tons of San Diego clay have been turned into base paths and a pitcher's mound. Red, white and blue bunting makes the place look like it's ready for the World Series instead of the opening series. And Swanton says Sydneysiders are ready for some major league authenticity at the concession stands.

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SWANTON: Things like bacon on a stick and ice cream in a helmet we'd never heard of before. Although, we do like the sound of bacon on a stick, that sounds quite tempting.

GOLDMAN: What's tempting to Major League Baseball is an untapped market. Sports business expert Marc Ganis says the two Dodgers, D-Backs games, along with two exhibitions against the Australian National team, probably won't be profitable. Ganis says despite the expected near sellouts at the 40,000 seat facility, there's so much expense, including travel for the teams and converting the SCG. But Ganis, president of Sportscorp Limited, says baseball figures it's still worth it.

MARC GANIS: When brand is a very big part of your business as it is in Major League Baseball, sometimes you have to do loss leaders in order to simply get your customers excited. So that there's a residual benefit - more people watching the games more people wanting to play baseball and more people wanting to wear logo'd merchandise.

GOLDMAN: Baseball has had the grand vision before, opening seasons in Japan, Mexico, Puerto Rico. Will the brand stick in Australia? Some of the impact won't be known for several years. But Will Swanton says Australians are dubious about baseball's residual benefit.

SWANTON: I'm sure they're going to enjoy themselves in Sydney, we've got beautiful weather, big crowds, all that kind of thing. But there is that underlying kind of, you know feeling of, why are you guys here?

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GOLDMAN: After all, Australia is quite happy with its own beloved bat and ball game, and that message seems to be embedded in the converted stadium. Behind second base, an unusual block of closely shaved grass stands out - it's the cricket pitch that Swanton says the groundskeeper refused to dig up.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

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