Baseball in Auckland… Ball One or Strike One?

By Sam Richardson 18/09/2012

I was particularly interested to read this article in Stuff this morning that outlines interest in establishing a professional baseball franchise in Auckland. Evidently Major League Baseball are keen on helping Auckland with facilities and to set up the franchise in the Australian Baseball League (ABL).
Personally, as a keen follower of Major League Baseball in the US, I’d be very keen to see professional baseball in this country. There are a couple of issues, though, to be worked through. Firstly, a facility. From the article:

Australian Baseball League chief executive Peter Wermuth said: ”A proper baseball facility suitable for professional baseball would be a great development for the sport in New Zealand, provide an opportunity to bring ABL games to New Zealand and would be a key step towards consideration for an ABL expansion franchise in the future.
”We strongly support the initiative.” 

A ‘proper’ facility would assist with the location of a possible ABL franchise. Auckland has been working through a review of sports facility usage (see a draft regional facilities review discussion paper linked here)* whereby proposals have been made for certain facilities to be used in more efficient/appropriate ways. Whether a presently utilised facility can be converted into a dedicated baseball-only facility or whether a greenfields site is required is unknown at this stage. Don’t expect the “build it and they will come” approach to automatically make baseball in Auckland an economic gold mine.

 “It’s crucial for our sport to take the next step to have at least one facility that we can call home,” BNZ president David Ballinger said.

”Every other sport has at least one facility that they can access whenever necessary, and baseball should be no different.

If baseball has such a following, it would make sense for private interests to take the first step. The argument of “everyone else has one so I need one too” isn’t something that should go down too well with local government. It certainly isn’t a compelling argument for government assistance.

 ”We need a facility that we can build up over time that becomes world-class for what is considered one of the world’s most popular and profitable team sports.”

Popular – you bet. So is football. Football doesn’t influence decisions on major sporting facilities of this country, however, in the way that rugby or cricket does. Profitable – it sure is. I wonder why? Could things like this have anything to do with baseball’s profitability in the US? What about the implications of its monopoly status? Let’s be clear, also, that professional sport doesn’t always bring in the big bucks and isnt alwatys good for a local economy. Just to be absolutely clear.

There’s one other ‘problem’ with professional baseball (or profitable sports, in general), and the extent to which one would consider it a problem depends on your perspective. This is no better illustrated than the present lockout of the NHL in North America – its second in seven years. Baseball has had lockouts and strikes in the past, and at least one economist found that it wasn’t the end of the world.

*UPDATE (24 Sept): The paper I intended to link was the Regional Facilities Auckland (RFA) discussion document – please find it linked here.)