Among the major leagues, the MLB undoubtedly gets the most negative press regarding its popularity. Once the golden child of US sports, it has ceded to football, often being considered a game for the older generations of America. The Tampa Bay Rays seek to buck that trend, even going as far as becoming the first cash-free professional sports venue in the country, as we reported here: https://www.tampabaynewswire.com/2020/06/25/.
Annual ticket sales remain the best in the US, hovering close to the 75 million mark – while the NBA and NFL both site sub-25 million – thanks to the plethora of games and strong localized fan bases. However, the statistics can’t be denied: the MLB has an average fan age of 57-years-old, which continues to rise, and the year-on-year rise in strikeouts naturally reduces the excitement of the overall game.
So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the MLB has been exploring its options and looking at new sports markets in which to curry favor. In 2019, the league somewhat bizarrely went to London, despite the presence of baseball in the UK being small-to-nonexistent. Instead, the league and the Rays should up their efforts in appealing to the avid baseball nation of Japan.
The Japanese Baseball Experience
Even though the game itself is the same, there are many differences between the Japanese and American gameday experience of baseball. Perhaps the most striking difference is the attitude on the field and among fans in the crowd. The Japanese revel in the core pillars of the sport as it was, with discipline, perseverance, and loyalty being at its heart. Additionally, while the crowd doesn’t berate the officials or players, they do create a very bouncy, festive atmosphere.
As detailed by https://www.latimes.com/travel/, at a Nippon Professional Baseball game, you’ll experience an energetic buzz from the sold-out crowd, all chanting, singing, banging on drums, and performing victory rituals. The report says that one of the more surprising aspects as a traveling MLB fan was that none of the fans would stare at their smartphones or even look around for distractions. It was purely watching and cheering for nine innings.
The passion for baseball in Japan is tremendous and is subsequently a major driver of the online betting scene. Now, well-known international betting brands like https://sports.williamhill.com/betting/ja-jp offer a fully-optimized Japanese form of their platform. The baseball odds for props and futures are the most popular, particularly for NPB, and what this means is that the fan base is engaged, knowledgeable, and tracks the sport game-to-game.
The Perfect Fan Base to Try to Win over for the Rays
Despite being in the AL East with the storied New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, the Tampa Bay Rays have built a solid team, one that conquered the division in the shortened 2020 season. So, this seems to be the opportune time to puff the chest and advertise to new markets as one of the best and most deserving of fandom. If not for this reason, then the simple fact that Yoshi Tsutsugo is on the books will offer plenty of sway among Japanese baseball fans.
Having played for the Yokohama BayStars since 2010, Tsutsugo developed into a superstar. He featured in five All-Star Games and set franchise records for hitting home run milestones as the youngest to do so. While a great player in himself, Tsutsugo could benefit from the pursuit of Japanese fans because they tend to follow teams with Japanese players on the roster.
From there, as Japanese fans prefer the product of the NPB to that of MLB, the Rays could look to integrate a more Japanese approach to their games. The buzz around stadiums with everyone wearing team colors, singing, and cheering would be difficult to replicate overnight and in each game. However, the Rays could go supernova with the Citrus Series. A big draw of the NPB is the local rivalries, and the Rays could ramp up the emphasis on their games with the Miami Marlins to coax some rivalry-based intrigue.
The MLB has taken that first step and returned to Japan for a couple of games recently, which could help the Rays get their foot in the door and truly generate an overseas fan base.