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The Yankees, Red Sox, and baseball’s overseas expansion

The NFL has broached the topic for years, but can it work in baseball?

MLB: New York Yankees at Boston Red Sox Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports

For the last 23 years, Major League Baseball has made a concerted effort to expand the sport overseas by playing games in other countries. Starting with a three-game set between the New York Mets and San Diego Padres in Monterrey, Mexico, in August of 1996, more than 70 games have been played outside the United States and Canada. They have primarily taken place in Mexico and Puerto Rico, but also in Japan, Australia, and now, England.

Additionally, the league has made more of an effort in recent years to schedule these games during the season, with the 2019 calendar having games in three foreign cities — Tokyo, Monterrey, and London. The league will return to London next season for a matchup between the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs.

While Major League Baseball has not come out and said it just yet, the natural progression of all these games is overseas expansion by the league: permanent teams based abroad, in new markets outside the normal scope of baseball currently. But while expansion to Monterrey and Puerto Rico would be fairly trivial, as they are within the same time zones as the other North American-based teams, overseas expansion to Europe or Japan would make for a logistical nightmare.

So, is it possible?

We already have a travel blueprint for crossing the Atlantic from this series: two days off before the trip to get to London and adjust to the time zone, and one day off to cross the Atlantic westward to get home. This works fairly well for a short trip by two East Coast teams, but once this trip needs to happen on the regular, it would require a number of additional off-days for the teams making the trip across the pond, lengthening the schedule or making other travel inconvenient. That’s not even mentioning the West Coast clubs.

But what if the league did not expand by only one team, and instead put a full division in Europe? Assuming the schedule remains identical to the way it is now, these teams would all play each other 19 times, including at least nine times on the road. Now, these European teams would play games in Europe not 81 times, but instead 117 times. They would only have to cross the Atlantic to play 45 games, which could easily be scheduled as three eleven-game road trips and one twelve-game trip.

Furthermore, the league can structure the schedule so that when American-based teams journey to Europe, they play multiple teams (perhaps even all five) to minimize the disadvantages of the traveling. It would be far from a perfect setup—any games involving the European teams would by definition involve extensive road trips for one team or the other—but it is possible.

We are far from seeing a permanent baseball team stationed overseas. Even the NFL, the most aggressive league when it comes to overseas expansion, does not expect to see a franchise in London until roughly 2025. Nonetheless, the London Series represents the first step in what will likely be a long process to expand Major League Baseball to new markets throughout the world.