By Finlay Boyle
After the two much-anticipated exhibition matches between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks at the SCG in March, Sydneysiders can now claim to have had a proper taste of America’s pastime.
Alex Pellerano, National Commercial Manager at Baseball Australia, is optimistic about the future of baseball in Australia, although he admits there is a long way to go. “Baseball is a sport that struggles for mainstream attention,” he says. “What these exhibition matches have done is really made baseball a topic of conversation.”
He says the game has been growing for the past three years with an increase in attendance of 22 per cent and ticket sales revenue of 20 per cent.
However, for this growth to continue, baseball must woo fans away from traditional Australian sports, something that Peter Fitzsimons, sports columnist for the Sydney Morning Herald and Sun-Herald, does not see happening.
“Speaking for myself, I could stand to see a baseball match like that once every five years. I think baseball’s a fine game but you need to be sort of born and bred to it to really appreciate its nuances.”
Although he is behind growth of all sports in Australia, he is critical of using Australia solely for the purpose of exhibition matches. “If we’re going to grow baseball in this country, let’s have homegrown. I don’t want us to become an outer market for the American sporting franchises.”
Peter Fitzsimons has called the Dodgers-Diamondbacks visit “a well-executed marketing exercise” and thinks it is unlikely that we shall see “the beginning of regular Major League Baseball appearances in Australia” as a result.
Dr David Smith, of the US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, says, “I don’t think baseball has a huge future in Australia because it can’t really compete with cricket. It’s hard for someone to switch from being a cricket fan into a casual baseball fan.”
As for the exhibition match, he believes that it should really only come as a one off. “If it was something they were doing regularly, I think the response would probably taper off.”