The other day Shannon wrote that he was not a fan of the WBC, that he thought it was stupid and a money grab. In the comments section I disagreed with him. I don’t see this as a money grab per se (jersey buying aside – and I am guilty of that as well), any more than the soccer and rugby World Cups. Yes, each of the first 2 tournaments turned a modest profit, and the current tournament has broken attendance marks of the first two. But money is not the immediate short term goal here.
This is an attempt to grow the game on an international level, which is even more important since the Olympics dropped baseball. And you know what? It’s working. There are more teams in the tournament this year than in the first two, and the level of interest (outside the US) is greater than ever before. There’s even a group trying to raise money to build ball fields in Ireland. In fact, the only country where interest is not huge is the US. But that’s ok because we are not the primary audience. We already love baseball here, and there are other ways that MLB can increase participation and interest here.
Now that said, there are ways that the WBC can improve and it’s primarily around scheduling. I don’t think keeping it during Spring Training is the right move. Players aren’t quite ready (how many opted out to get in shape for the season), and neither are the fans. This time of the year is meant to reawaken the baseball spirit that has laid dormant throughout the winter. (A fellow commenter) dismisses the idea of doing the tourney during the All-Star break. I actually think this is a great idea.
Here is how I would plan it. The WBC is a once every four year event so, once every four years the All-Star break is expanded to 2 week period. The preliminary rounds of the WBC are still held during Spring Training but the double elimination round and championship round are moved to mid-summer, when baseball interest is high and it is the only sport going on. Let’s say the first half of the season ends on a Thursday. Then the break would play out as follows:
- Friday: an off day
- Saturday through Thursday: Double elimination round with double-headers each day. Group 1 plays the first game on Sunday with Group 2 playing the nightcap. The Groups then alternate each day through to the final games on Thursday.
- Friday: the Futures Game and Celebrity Softball game (both I think could be eliminated if need be)
- Saturday: WBC Semi-Final Game 1
- Sunday: WBC Semi-Final Game 2
- Monday: Home Run Derby
- Tuesday: All-Star Game
- Wednesday: WBC Championship Game
- Thursday: off day
- Friday: the season resumes
By doing the tournament in the summer you are not limited to warm weather sites in March. MLB could literally own a city for 2 weeks. The amount of foreign tourism dollars that could be generated would have cities bidding on this similarly to the way they bid on the Super Bowl. The All Star Fan Fest now becomes an International Baseball Festival.
There will be critics who will warn about injuries and such. You are going to have those concerns whenever the WBC is scheduled so that’s a given regardless. So then it comes down to the best time to generate awareness and audience. Baseball is a summer game – the “World Championship” should then be played in the summer.