MLB last played in Asia in 2019, when Mariners legend Ichiro Suzuki said goodbye to baseball during a game in Tokyo against the A.Images: getty
MLB will expand its international reach into a new Asian market, with sources saying South Korea is the main venue for a season-opening series in 2024.
This would mark MLB’s first regular season games in that country and add to a plan for international growth that has seen the league schedule such games in Mexico City (four two-game series), London (three), San Juan (two) and Tokyo and Paris (one each) between 2023 and 2026.
The push marks the “most ambitious international game plan in league history,” according to Jim Small, MLB’s senior vice president of international.
It wouldn’t be the league’s first foray into South Korea. MLB opened an office in Seoul three years ago and has established core programs and localized content in that market. Seoul hosted a round of the World Baseball Classic in 2017, and MLB is hosting a Home Run Derby X event slated for Incheon in September.
However, as Small said, “Coming back with major league teams is important.”
The pandemic has given the league a chance to pull together on its international plan. Its in-house strategy team worked with Boston Consulting Group to conduct a study that included modeling future international performance based on what other sports and media properties did in the global market. Among the findings of the study was the potential for MLB in South Korea.
“We think it’s essential to go and play there,” said Chris Marinak, MLB’s director of operations and strategy. “We’re really optimistic that a game in Korea fits with our strategy and will be very positive for this market in terms of the growth of baseball globally.”
MLB’s international push included a 2020 bidding process, in which more than 20 municipalities around the world expressed interest in game hosting.
Teams are looking to play overseas. The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are among several clubs that have expressed interest in the league to play in Paris in June 2025, according to Small.
In determining which teams have the opportunity, Small said there are several factors to consider. He called the Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers, Red Sox and Yankees “true global brands,” but pointed out that teams in smaller markets also have international appeal.
Small said the Seattle Mariners, for example, are “arguably our No. 1 team in Japan,” thanks in large part to legendary Japanese player Ichiro Suzuki’s longtime starring role with Seattle.
“We really have a wide range of choices,” Small said.
MLB will not follow an NFL-style international marketing plan that designates specific international fanbases for each NFL team, Small said.
During the All-Star Week festivities, MLB held meetings with Korean officials, Japanese media giant and league partner Dentsu and World Baseball Classic executives, Marinak said.
MLB leaders also met with World Baseball and Softball Confederation President Riccardo Fraccari and USA Baseball CEO Paul Seiler regarding long-term play to grow the game.
“We are looking to make a splash internationally [beginning] in 2023,” Marinak said. “And we’re really excited to see where things are going.”