If you were to believe the internet, whether it be one of those good professional articles that sort of hint at it or an ignorant person in the comments section of some other blog, then you’d think the WBC is doomed, and that the current World Baseball Classic will be the last, especially if Team USA doesn’t advance far- a true possibility, given that it’s a win or go home game against Canada today.
To which I say: WRONG! Here are four reasons why the World Baseball Classic isn’t going anywhere. Why four reasons? Because the next World Baseball Classic will be the fourth WBC!
1. They’ve already scheduled, made certain plans, and made business deals regarding the 2017 Classic.
When it was announced that MLB Network would broadcast the World Baseball Classic, it was also mentioned that they had the rights to the 2017 tournament. Now, the cynic would say that doing that would allow MLB to easily kill the tournament if they wanted to, since MLB Network is part of Major League Baseball and thus wouldn’t be suing for breach of contract or anything. And while that is true for MLB Network, it is not true for ESPN Deportes acquisition of the WBC rights through the 2017 tournament or for the radio rights, acquired by ESPN and ESPN Deportes, again through the 2017 tournament, not to mention any deals that have been made with other sponsors or international broadcasters.
In addition, you’ll notice how they have mentioned the 2017 WBC in coverage as well. When China beat Brazil, for example, it was mentioned that it was important for China because it meant they would qualify for the 2017 WBC, while Brazil was now going to have to go through qualifying. While it has not been announced yet how the qualifiers will work, with some cynically- but probably rightly- noting that it’s unlikely Team USA would have to qualify even if they do finish last in the pool, it’s obvious that there will be some sort of qualifying.
So it is probably safe to say that at the very least there will be a WBC in 2017.
2. It is doing well overseas.
Although some focused on the small crowds for the games that didn’t involve the home teams in the Asian pools, the fact is that the WBC is a big hit overseas. One in three televisions in Japan, for example, were tuned into the first round games featuring Samurai Japan. In Italy, baseball was in the sports pages for the first time in recent memory- still merely a footnote compared to soccer, but far more prominent than it otherwise would have been. The going-ons of the national team were front page news in Taiwan, where baseball had been battered by scandals the last decade. Canada’s fight with Mexico was something of a matter of pride to some Canadians, with flamboyant hockey commentator Don Cherry taking some time out of his Hockey Night in Canada gig to talk about it.
This, by the way, ties with reason number four… but I’ll get there.
3. It’s Bud Selig’s baby.
It has been said that Pete Rose’s Hall of Fame fate was sealed when A. Bartlett Giamatti passed away not long after Rose agreed to be permanently ineligible from baseball. Had Giamatti lived, perhaps he would have eventually negated- or at least lessened- the penalty, or at the very least had his opinion asked about it. But Giamatti passed away, and so it is said that nobody has decided to do anything about Rose, as it is thought it would, in a way, go against his memory.
The WBC is much the same way- it’s Bud Selig’s baby. Having (amazingly) made MLB the toughest drug-tester of the big four leagues, he’s set his legacy on making baseball a more international game, perhaps, one day in the more distant future, even having a “true” World Series.
And, just as poor Pete Rose probably won’t be getting into the Hall of Fame until those who knew Commissioner Giamatti are long dead, it’s unlikely anybody is going to go after the WBC until Selig is long gone, by which point, it should be noted, it could be an unassailable part of a baseball that is truly international.
4. Baseball is ultimately a business, and business side of the WBC is good and getting better.
In the Sports Business Journal, an article before the start of this WBC’s games included this sentence, which basically shows the disconnect between the perception of the WBC and how it really is:
Two successful tournaments already in the books and a third on the cusp, and the World Baseball Classic is still fighting for mainstream acceptance, even within the game itself.
Wait, did they say that there were two successful tournaments, and that a third was “on the cusp”, as if it was an inevitability?
Well, that’s because the WBC is a good business venture. It has 60 or more sponsors- which is nearly twice as many as the original tournament. Merchandise sales, if they are anything like in previous tournaments, are probably great. Attendance could be better, but is still pretty good, especially in games where the home team or a team of local interest (such as Mexico in Arizona) is playing.
And, ultimately, baseball is a business, and has been for a long time. It’s meant to make money, and for all the complaining by some team partisans, they certainly aren’t complaining when the checks arrive in the mail. And as long as the WBC continues to create that extra money and open up new markets such as Europe, Brazil and perhaps even China, it will stay. It’s just good business.
There are, of course, plenty of flaws to the WBC. The timing isn’t right (and probably never will be, as the only other times that would be possible, such as during the All-Star break or in November, both also have plenty of issues with them), the tickets are too expensive (especially for games that have little interest to local fans, which led to the small crowds in Asia for games where the home team wasn’t playing), the front offices have found plenty loopholes and ways around rules that are meant to keep them from blocking players, and the TV and online coverage could be much better…. but none of these, whether together or separately, are enough to negate the four points I made… especially the fourth one.