Column: America’s game no more

Jake Pfeiffer, News Editor & Copy Editor

The 2023 World Baseball Classic (WBC) is here in full swing, with the final game set for March 21- the day after this column is released.

Of course, the odds of anyone reading this column having ever turned into a WBC game aren’t great- According to Forbes, the last WBC final in 2017 drew just 2.3 million American viewers, even with the USA winning the championship for the first time ever.

For context, the World Series averaged 12 million viewers a game in 2022 according to the MLB, and the 2022 FIFA World Cup finals drew 25 million American viewers according to ESPN.

Not exactly inspiring numbers.

The problem with the WBC (and with the WBC’s TV ratings) is not that baseball is globally less popular than soccer, nor is it that people don’t care enough to watch international games.

No, the issue is that the WBC was created to promote the MLB to an international audience, rather than to truly give the game of baseball a place to flourish on the international stage (again according to ESPN).

After watching opening pool play for a few days, this problem becomes pretty apparent in the way the WBC’s four pools were organized. 

To start, the four pools are spread around the globe, with 20 teams playing across Japan, Taiwan, Arizona and Miami. 

The way teams are organized into these pools also makes little sense. Sure, the Japan pool makes a fair amount of sense, (it has Japan, China, South Korea, Australia and the Czech Republic, which outside of Czech are all geographically near the country in which they’re playing,) but the Taiwan pool (Taiwan, Italy, Cuba, The Netherlands and Panama) is almost incoherent.

This is incredibly apparent when watching games- For Japan v. Korea, the Tokyo Dome was crammed full of screaming fans, but when The Netherlands played Cuba in Taichung? I think I counted 100 people in the stands

The MLB, in an attempt for self promotion, just threw teams with MLB players across the globe, with no regard for logic or geography. While sure, I bet the less than 1000 people in the stands for Italy v. Panama in Taichung loved seeing Kansas City Royals infielder (and Naperville Central Grad) Nicky Lopez play, the tens of thousands of people in attendance the next day to watch their home nation take on The Netherlands surely had a better time.

Promoting the MLB at all costs loses the point of international sports – the passion and fervor that comes from rooting on your home country as they take on the best in the world – in favor of obtuse promotion of an American sports league.

Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) in Japan, the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) and countless other baseball leagues across the globe have existed for decades – the game of baseball is clearly no longer just “America’s Pastime,” and we need to stop treating it as such.

So for the next WBC, why don’t we arrange pools by continent or region, so more fans can see their home teams play for the title? Or, why don’t we borrow from FIFA and have everything in one central location that rotates between different hosts every year?

It’s time the WBC actually becomes an event promoting the world of baseball, and not the MLB alone.