Major League Baseball (MLB) could look to stage games in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the future, according to a report in Abu Dhabi daily The National.
The preeminent North American league has identified taking regular season games overseas as a strategy for growing its brand internationally, and earlier this year staged a three-game series in Mexico between the San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers.
Next year, the Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners will play their season-opener in Japan, while arch-rivals the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are set to face off in the league’s first ever London games.
As MLB continues to look further afield, the league’s vice president for product marketing, Chris Park, says one target market is the Middle East.
“We are observing interest in recent years in potential partners in the Middle East to do various activities and are looking carefully at opportunities and expect to become more active there,” said Park.
Baseball already has a strong fanbase in the UAE with around 50,000 American expats living in the region, according to a 2015 estimate by BQ Magazine. Qatar-backed media giant BeIN Sports has also broadcast MLB in the Middle East since 2015, giving the league exposure through coverage of up to two games each week.
Any MLB activity in the UAE is likely to involve the Los Angeles Dodgers, who signed a deal in 2016 to sponsor the Dubai Little League – the junior version of baseball in the region – in conjunction with Emirates Airline.
That particular agreement came as part of Emirates’ deal to become the Dodgers official airline partner, which marked the company’s first sponsorship of a major US sports team. Emirates has home plate and foul pole signage at Dodgers’ games, while it also activates the deal through signage and fan-focused activations.
“We look at baseball as a global sport,” says Lon Rosen, the Dodgers’ chief marketing officer and executive vice president. “We look at different countries around the world and Emirates brought this opportunity to us; the more people who buy our brand the better. What’s important to us and Emirates is to grow our brands worldwide and we’re now in our third season in Dubai.”