Sports Outside the Beltway

Globalizing sports

In Foreign Legion, the Baltimore Sun explores the growing globalization of American sports through the lens of the signings of major international stars by American teams. Specifically it looks at the cases of Daisuke Matsuzaka, Yao Ming and David Beckham.

Of Matsuzaka, the article considers the costs, risks and benefits of the Red Sox signing. Right now the financial benefits remain elusive.

The immediate economic benefits to the Red Sox may be more limited. They already sell out every game and charge more per ticket than any team in the league. They spent $103.1 million ($51.1 million for his rights and a six-year, $52 million contract) on Matsuzaka primarily because they wanted an ace for the next six years.”It was first, second and third a baseball decision designed to give us a better team and a better rotation,” Red Sox president Larry Lucchino said. “There are some ancillary benefits, but they are just that — ancillary. The notion that there’s some enormous pot of marketing gold is illusory.”

And I guess, if the Red Sox overpaid, it was also to keep Dice-K away from the Yankees. Still there are some benefits to the signing from a marketing standpoint.

The Sun has an accompanying list of the most prominent signings of foreign players by American sports teams.

In the case of Yao Ming, the article points out that international players are already a significant presence in the NBA, but that China was a real prize.

The league appears on 51 Chinese television stations and has accrued a viewership of 428 million this year. China accounts for 20 percent of the traffic on, and the Rockets’ Mandarin-language Web site ranks among the most viewed sports pages in the world. NBA merchandise sells in more than 20,000 Chinese stores, and the league will open 10 NBA-specific shops in the country by the end of the year.

The benefits of the LA Galaxy signing David Beckham may not be realized only on the soccer field.

MLS receives scant mainstream attention in the United States, but it’s suddenly on the pages of People and on the lips of Access Hollywood anchors. Children in Asia and Europe who’ve hardly given a second thought to U.S. soccer will wear Galaxy jerseys. If the league can attract more international stars, it might connect deeply with immigrant populations that live in the United States but live and die with soccer teams from their original countries.

Some 30 years ago an the NY Cosmos of the NASL signed an international star. That did not work out as well.

In the 1970s, the New York Cosmos signed Pele and other international stars in hopes of popularizing soccer in America. The formula worked for a while as the Cosmos drew more than 40,000 fans a game at Giants Stadium and earned the North American Soccer League a television deal. But the NASL’s other franchises never matched the Cosmos’ aggression, and the league folded less than 10 years after Pele signed his contract.

Globalization can help a team discover new talent or a new fan base. Investing in the former could very well help develop the latter. Smarter teams are going to take advantage of the global market. Or they will risk being left behind.

Incidentally, there’s another side to the globalization of sports. There are the United Soccer Leagues in the U.S. that is affiliated with England’s Premier League. Though the leagues have been operating in Northern America for 20 years, I was unaware of them until a local club – Crystal Palace USA started advertising.

This leads to another question. When will other American major sports leagues follow the lead of NFL Europe and start partnerships with international leagues or teams? This would also extend the marketing reach (as well as the talent pool) of teams and leagues that participate.

Crossposted at Soccer Dad.

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