Sydney, Australia played host to the first games of this year’s Major League Baseball season over the weekend. This was the 7th time in the league’s history that the season opener has been held outside the continental US, all of which have happened since 1999. Of the previous six, Japan hosted four of them, and the Sydney games were the first ever official MLB games in Australia. The Los Angeles Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks played their two-game series in front of crowds of over 38,000 in a cricket stadium that had been specially converted just for the games. That same venue hosted an exhibition game between the Chicago White Sox and the New York Giants in 1914.
Baseball is very popular around the Asia-Pacific, and has even been played in Australia since the 1850s. Both the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks have pitchers on their rosters from the Asia-Pacific region – the Diamondbacks’ Ryan Rowland-Smith is Australian, while the Dodgers’ Hyun-jin Ryu is South Korean. The level of professional level talent coming out of the region is substantial, and Australia, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan have all taken home medals in baseball at the summer Olympics. Japan and South Korea have also earned more medals than any other country at the World Baseball Classic, the global baseball tournament that occurs every four years, which began in 2006.
Both the Diamondbacks and the Dodgers each played a warm-up game against the Australian national team in the days before the Major League season officially opened on Saturday. Given the crowds that the pro games drew, there is already discussion of a similar series being held in 2018. Other leagues have also begun holding games overseas, such as the NFL’s annual games in London. Exposing new audiences to American sports has proved to generate substantial new revenue streams for the leagues, while also benefiting the local economies. The Dodgers-Diamondbacks series in Australia reportedly generated about $13 million for the state of New South Wales.