MLB Considering International Expansion?

In the long history of Major League Baseball, there have only been two international franchises; the Toronto Blue Jays and the Montreal Expos. The Expos made history when they became the first international team in baseball history as part of MLB’s expansion of 1969 that included two American League teams, the Kansas City Royals and the Seattle Pilots, and two Nationals League teams, the San Diego Padres and the Expos.

Expansion into Montreal made sense; baseball had long since held a strong foothold in the city, and it already had a minor league team, the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Triple-A team, the Montreal Royals. In 1969, it became official: Montreal was the first team outside of the United States to have a franchise in MLB. In 1977, MLB added another team north of the border when it founded the Toronto Blue Jays as the second international team. For the next twenty-eight years the two teams represented an entire nation as the only two international teams.

But all good things must come to an end. Declining attendance in the Expos’ home, Olympic Stadium, made it apparent that the Expos would eventually relocate. In 2003 and 2004, their last two years, the Expos split their home games between Montreal and Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan Puerto Rico in an attempt to increase revenue. In 2005, the team was relocated to Washington D.C. and became the Washington Nationals, and baseball was left with just one international team.

In recent years, MLB has been flirting with the idea of international expansion, and has made two recent trips back to Olympic Stadium. In 2014, the Blue Jays hosted the New York Mets for a two-game spring training series in Montreal. The trek back to Montreal was considered to be a financial success, and early reports from Evenko, the entertainment company producing the games, stated that they sold 75,000 tickets for the two games. Ticket sales were later confirmed to be even higher than that, as the two games ended up selling upwards of 96,000 tickets.

Earlier this year, MLB decided to again travel to Montreal during spring training for a pair of games between the Blue Jays and the Cincinnati Reds, likely because of how well the two game series drew in 2014. The games were again successful and the first of the two reportedly drew 46,314 fans.

Now, ten years after the Expos relocation to Washington, Major League Baseball is again thinking about expanding into international markets, but not just in Canada.

MLB commissioner, Rob Manfred, said that there is consideration in adding a team in Mexico. “We see Mexico as an opportunity internationally,” says Manfred. “We also think a team in Mexico and a larger number of Mexican players in the big leagues could really help us continue to grow the Hispanic market in the United States.”

Manfred also stated that while an expansion to Mexico is realistic, the time frame of doing so is sketchy. “The prospects of having a Major League team here in Mexico are realistic. The difficult issue is the time frame,” Manfred says.

If Manfred does add a team to Mexico, it’s likely that another team would be added to give MLB an even thirty-two teams, and the most likely addition would be Montreal. “Mexico and Canada present the most fertile ground just in terms of the level of baseball interest and the proximity to our existing franchises.”

Now, for the first time in years, Major League Baseball could be on the verge on tapping into fresh, and financially lucrative, markets, and truly becoming an international sport.

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