The Yankees are at the forefront of baseball's foray into the untapped Chinese market
BASEBALL'S QUEST for more customers—not to mention middle relievers—is expanding far and wide. New York Yankees officials took off for Beijing on Sunday to strike an alliance with the Chinese Baseball Association. Like most any multinational corporation, baseball sees a huge growth market in the 1.3 billion consumers in China.
The Yankees, whose contingent is headed by president Randy Levine and G.M. Brian Cashman, claim to carry the flag for all of MLB. Said Levine, "We want other teams to become part of it. This is about growing the game in China and using the Yankees' tradition and brand to get it going." In the short term Levine foresees sending Yankees coaches, trainers and scouts to China, building a training academy there and inviting Chinese players to the Yankees' spring training facilities as early as 2008. ( China is showing symptoms of baseball fever; there are two fledgling six-team leagues, and the country competed in the World Baseball Classic last spring.) In the longer run baseball sees a huge pool of new talent and fans, exhibition and regular-season games in China, and possibly a Pacific Rim division of MLB.
Said one AL G.M., "It's definitely the next great frontier, with the [player] payoff 15 to 20 years away. You'll see five teams [with a presence] there within the next two years. But if MLB coordinates the effort over there, it will benefit more teams."