ON THE BUSINESS AND POLITICS OF SPORTS
(Amsterdam, the Netherlands) – The flight out of Schiphol near Amsterdam in the Netherlands should be heartening for the Lords of Major League Baseball. Looking out the window, one can see four baseball diamonds as a flight heads out to the North Sea. There is gold in those diamonds if Major League Baseball can attract locals to play baseball.
There is some talk that Dutch baseball officials want to host a Major League Baseball game in Hoofddorp near Amsterdam in 2014. Could Honkball (Dutch for baseball) be played on a Major League level in The Netherlands on a one-off circumstance?
It is possible but the Dutch need a honkball stadium for a game or a series as MLB is not sending two teams to Amsterdam or Hoofddorp to play just one game and there is a need to build a higher level of awareness for the game. Hoofddorp plans to open a 30,000 seat facility which would be used for an MLB series. There is money available in Amsterdam and the country is rebuilding the infrastructure so the low country might be a good place to start in MLB’s quest to find a European market and sell baseball.
The Netherlands will be celebrating 100 years of baseball in the country in 2012 but a lot of work needs to be done before anyone will consider the Netherlands a baseball hotbed. At sporting goods stores in places like Delft and Rotterdam there are football (soccer) kits, footballs, sneakers, basetballs and lots and lots of bicycles. Baseball gloves are not widely available. Baseball doesn’t have a bottom to the top support system starting with youth baseball and working through high schools in the country.
Yet, the Netherlands national baseball team is pretty good. The Netherlands is for some reason the most baseball friendly country on the European continent and you can spot a lot of Atlanta Braves hats along with New York Yankees caps, although Yankees caps can even be spotted in St. Petersburg, Russia. The team upset the Dominican Republic in the 2009 World Baseball Classic (WBC) and the country will return to the WBC in 2013. The team competed in four Summer Olympics between 1996 and 2008 and the only reason that the country won’t have a baseball team in the 2012 Summer Games in London is simple. The overseers of the five interlocking rings two week corporate bazaar were upset that Major League Baseball didn’t want to play ball with them and send the game’s best players to compete. MLB didn’t want to shut down the regular season to allow their players to compete in a glorified all-star tournament and the International Olympic Committee delegates decided that golf and rugby were better fits for the competition than baseball and women’s softball.
The International Olympic Committee also went after Major League Baseball by badgering members of Congress in 2003 and 2004 because the self appointed arbitrators of sport didn’t like Major League Baseball’s drug testing policies. These were the same people who took bribes from competing cities in exchange for votes during the bidding between cities for the right to host an Olympics. These were the same people who required host cities to set up what is nothing more than a slush fund to pay for construction overcosts for an Olympics.
The Netherlands team is more than just European trained players. There are some Americans who have Dutch roots and a number of players who are from the Netherlands’ Caribbean territories, Aruba, the Netherlands Antilles and Curacao.
Major League Baseball blew an opportunity to establish a footprint on the European continent in 1992 when the owners and the players association could not come up with a payment formula for members of the New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals to play a few spring training games in Barcelona as a prelude to the 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympics. The IOC in those days classified baseball as demonstration sport. The Mets and Cardinals Barcelona series never took place.
Major League Baseball officials would like to get into Europe. Mike Piazza has been spreading the baseball gospel in Italy and one of baseball’s newest Hall of Fame members, Dutch born but California raised Bert Blyleven is also trying to raise baseball awareness in the Netherlands. MLB looked into the possibility of holding games in Italy in 2012.
Baseball like other North American based sports is feeling the need to go global. Later this month four NHL teams including the New York Rangers will start the regular season with games in Stockholm, Sweden, Helsinki, Finland and Berlin, Germany. The four teams will also spend part of training camp in Europe. The National Basketball Association, currently in a lockout mode, sent the New Jersey Nets and the Toronto Raptors to London for a pair of games last March. The NBA has a significant footprint in Europe and NBA Commissioner David Stern has long been an advocate of establishing an NBA European division but the league has not been able to find the right cities for the plan to work.
Only London and Berlin seem to have the “North American” style building that Stern seeks. Coincidentally the London and Berlin buildings are run by AEG, the Los Angeles based entertainment company headed by Phil Anschutz. Anschutz owns the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings (Anschutz’s Kings will play in the NHL’s Berlin opener) and a piece of the LA Lakers. A couple of years ago, Stern felt London, Berlin and Rome, Italy could support NBA teams.
Both hockey and basketball are well established entities in Europe. Both the NHL and NBA have European trained athletes in the leagues. MLB had just two Dutch born players on active rosters in 2011, Seattle outfielder Greg Halman and Baltimore pitcher Rick VanderHurk.
A guy by the name of Derek Jeter won the Yankees shortstop position in 1996 beating out the Dutch born Robert Eenhoorn for the job.
Eenhoorn now runs the Dutch baseball program.
Major League Baseball is looking for new markets; the Netherlands, Italy, Ghana and India are on the industry’s radar. The International Baseball Federation once had the Netherlands ranked as high as sixth in the group’s ranking of baseball powers.
The view from the soaring plane of four baseball diamonds is rather impressive for MLB. You just don’t find many baseball fields in Europe but there are at least four in the Netherlands that you can see from the sky and there probably are quite a few more scattered around the country.
The Netherlands wants a Major League Honkball game or two in 2014. MLB would gladly provide them with a few games in exchange for a considerable amount of euros. That’s what sports is all about anyway, dollars, loonies, pesos, euro, yen, yuan and how to maximize whatever currency into the business.
The Netherlands is calling, now it is up to the country to get the right stadium and the right amount of Euros together for Major League Honkball.
Evan Weiner,the winner of the United States Sports Academy's 2010 Ronald Reagan Media Award, is an author, radio-TV commentator and speaker on "The Politics of Sports Business." His book, "The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition" is available at bickley.com, Barnes and Noble or Amazon Kindle.