Yankees reach agreement to assist Chinese baseball

Updated: March 2, 2007, 4:29 PM ET
Associated Press

BEIJING -- The New York Yankees agreed Tuesday to send coaches, scouts and trainers to China to help boost interest in baseball, furthering a push by the major leagues into one of the world's fastest-growing sports markets.

Under the agreement, the government-backed Chinese Baseball Association will send staff to the Yankees' facilities in New York and Tampa, Fla., while Yankees personnel will assist the Chinese national team and others.

Yankees president Randy Levine said he hopes to start sending coaches and other staff to China "in a few months."

"You can call this the great push for our industry in China," New York general manager Brian Cashman said at a news conference, shortly after he and Levine donned the gray jackets and red caps of the Chinese national team and gave navy Yankees warmup jackets and caps to Chinese officials.

Though modest in scope, the agreement underscores baseball's big ambitions for China. The world's most populous country, China has a growing, prosperous middle-class and a sports market estimated to be worth $10 billion-plus annually.

Other sports leagues have found success in building a fan base and drawing revenue from China, most notably the NBA. Major League Baseball also is trying to grow the game abroad, after the International Olympic Committee eliminated the sport from the 2012 London Games because, among other reasons, it was not widely played.

China "is a country that is clearly important to us as we look to develop around the world," said Jim Small, MLB's general manager for Asia.

But unlike the NBA, which is hugely popular in China and whose games are shown on state television, baseball faces an uphill struggle, as does the NFL, which has also launched a publicity drive.

Baseball is not widely played in China, though its following in high schools and universities is growing. The 4-year-old Chinese Baseball League, which has 10 teams, has yet to find a wide audience, either in stadiums or on TV. MLB games reach only a fraction of China's audience, via satellite broadcasts.

MLB has been promoting baseball in China for six years, taking batting cages to Chinese Baseball League stadiums, Small said.

China also fielded a team in the inaugural World Baseball Classic last year.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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