London (AFP) – The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox will clash in the first Major League Baseball games in Europe next year as the sport looks to grow its global fanbase, MLB chiefs announced on Tuesday.
The 2019 series, showcasing one of sport’s fiercest rivalries, will be played on June 29 and June 30 at the London Stadium, the site of the 2012 Olympic Games, which will be configured for baseball, with an estimated capacity of 55,000.
The Red Sox will be the home team for both games, marking the first time the clubs have met in a city that is not Boston or New York.
Britain will follow other international venues that have hosted regular-season Major League games, joining Mexico, Japan, Puerto Rico and Australia.
A two-year deal has been agreed that will include another series in London in 2020, with participating teams to be announced, and other initiatives that will aim to establish a footprint in the city.
“Major League Baseball is excited to be bringing one of the most storied rivalries in sports to the passionate fans of London,” said MLB commissioner Robert Manfred.
“In our ongoing efforts to grow baseball, there is nothing as impactful as bringing live games and our talented players to fans. This is our most significant endeavour ever in Europe and we look forward to showcasing Major League Baseball in one of the world’s great cities.”
Tony Clark, the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, said the games would feature some of the best players in the world.
“They are excited about the chance to meet new fans and showcase the game they love,” he said. “They are aware they’ll be a part of history, but they also know these games count. So fans can expect intense competition during what will surely be a great few days in London.”
– ‘Historic agreement’ –
Boston Red Sox Principal Owner John W. Henry, whose Fenway Sports Group owns Champions League finalists Liverpool, said: “For several years the Red Sox and Yankees have discussed playing in London as the first-ever Major League Baseball regular season game in Europe.”
“This series will surely be the most significant international event to date for Major League ball. I can’t wait to hear someone shout ‘play ball’ at London Stadium,” he added.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan hailed the “historic agreement” that will see baseball games played at the home of Premier League side West Ham, saying it showed London is the sporting capital of the world.
The New York Yankees, whose most recent World Series title came in 2009, are the most successful team in MLB history, with 27 World Series titles. The Red Sox have won eight times, most recently in 2013.
Both the Red Sox and Yankees have played games on international soil in recent years, visiting the Tokyo Dome for season openers. The Yankees opened the 2004 season with a two-game series against the Rays and the Red Sox opened the 2008 season with two games against the Oakland Athletics.
The Red Sox and Yankees rivalry is legendary, with both teams having played in the American League for more than a century.
The Boston Red Sox World Series win in 2004 ended an 86-year title drought, burying the “Curse of the Bambino”, the supposed hoodoo stemming from the Red Sox trading beloved star Babe Ruth to the Yankees.
The teams have met in the American League Championship Series three times, with the Yankees emerging as winners on two occasions.
Major League Baseball is following American football and basketball in crossing the Atlantic.
The NFL kicked off its series of regular-season American football games in London in 2007, when the New York Giants beat the Miami Dolphins at Wembley Stadium on their way to winning the Super Bowl.
The British capital hosted its first regular-season NBA game in 2011.