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MLB Brandball

I keep a Google Notes tab for this site open at all times. It’s a random collection of ideas and topics that I plan to write about at some point. Sometimes a topic will sit in that tab for a few hours before I get to it and other times it will sit there for months to years in some cases without me actually making the proposed topic into a reality. Outside of statistic-based ideas I cleared out all of the Major League Baseball topics quite a while back, sans one.

Yes, I am writing about that topic today, but I’m still not sure if I have a complete grasp of what I want to say. The reason I held off on this particular topic is because it’s one that I find to be highly important. For someone like me who views the game of baseball as a global endeavor, the idea of MLB and what they have done with their brand identity is a topic of the utmost importance.

Recent events have brought this topic back into my head and pushed it around my noodle enough that I feel a need to write something. For clarities sake, I think that what MLB has done with their brand and the sport of baseball is worthy of its own book. I’m pretty sure I’m not the person to write that book, but hopefully, someday a writer will decide this is an issue worth tackling in a longer format than an article. Be that as it may, this article is a chance for me to vent somewhat on what MLB has done to the sport of baseball with their branding.

When we talk about the sport of baseball do you think we are talking about baseball or are we talking about MLB? Are those two distinct concepts or are they one and the same? This may seem a small matter but it looms rather large for the discussion at hand. The facts of the matter are that MLB has made it where they are considered the sport of baseball. They have co-opted the word baseball as their word and that can be seen in the way they act as well as how fans carry on about baseball.

There’s not a day that goes by when I am not frustrated about the way that fans use the word baseball to exclusively mean MLB. I’ve written about that plenty of times before and this topic isn’t really about that particular issue per se. Rather, the discussion I’d like to have with everyone is how MLB has taken the co-opted term of baseball and turned MLB into the definitive brand of baseball. 

Dan Szymborski is a writer I admire. He has covered the sport of baseball for many years, albeit spending most of that time exclusively covering MLB with occasional dalliances into the rest of the affiliated baseball world. This year he has stepped outside of his usual haunts and offered coverage and statistical breakdowns of the Korea Baseball Organization season. Dan’s work has been sound, but it has been rooted in one undeniable truth; how much he can compare the KBO to MLB and how much the KBO isn’t MLB. I don’t believe the issue here is with Dan, rather it is with MLB and the way they have created a culture by which they are baseball and everything else is an imposter. The only logical conclusion of such an approach is to compare everything to MLB. That’s why you get a great writer and analyst like Dan who isn’t judging KBO by its own merits. Instead, he is attempting to make KBO fit into a pre-rendered MLB box.

This can be seen with other writers, websites, and so forth. The root cause is always MLB and the way they have made their brand of baseball into baseball. This can be further seen in the way MLB has attempted to grow the game of baseball outside of America. Instead of working with leagues already in existence in these growth countries, they bring their brand and essentially ignore what is already present. Whether we’re talking about England, Japan, Mexico, Australia, or Canada the goal of MLB is never to grow the sport of baseball it is to increase the sphere of influence of the MLB brand.

The Australian Baseball League presents a good case in point for how MLB’s brand based approach is actually hurting the growth of the game of baseball. MLB saw dollar signs everywhere in Australia and invested heavily in the league’s second go around. What they didn’t plan for was that growth in Australia wasn’t going to be quick. After a few years of very slow growth MLB pulled out of Australia and left the ABL all on their own. The result was a few very hard years for baseball in Australia. They were not ready to lose MLB’s support and losing that support hurt many of their youth and adult baseball initiatives. Eventually Australia recovered and baseball continues to grow in Australia with the ABL growing in popularity while the sport has seen incredible advancements on the national and global competition stage. MLB could have further helped to enhance that growth, but growth of the game is never their goal.

The only goal of MLB is money, that is why they aren’t really a part of the sport of baseball but more of a brand. Baseball could remain in the countries it is currently in and those behind MLB would be fine with that as long as their profits continued to rise. They care about the visibility of their brand of baseball. MLB executives and owners care about how the MLB brand can be used to drive the valuations of their franchises and the MLB organization itself.

The next time you talk about the sport of baseball and you actually mean MLB, take a moment and think about what you are about to say. Until we start to recognize that MLB is not all there is to baseball then people will still view MLB as all there is to baseball. It is up to us to take away the power MLB has built with its brand. If you truly love the sport of baseball and want to see it grow then you shouldn’t be giving power to a brand that doesn’t actually want the sport to grow. When we talk about the KBO we should be talking about them in the context of the global game of baseball, not just MLB. We should be couching our conversations, articles, and research about baseball in the global game, not in a brand that only wants to see growth for themselves and no one else. These past few weeks have clearly displayed that MLB executives and owners do not care about the sport or game of baseball. They only see dollars and cents, you can either be okay with that and keep up the idea of MLB brandball or you can try to effect change by destroying the narrative MLB has spent decades constructing. The choice is yours and the power is yours.

Lead photo courtesy of Unknown – Unknown

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Bill Thompson
Father (human/feline/canine), boyfriend, Paramedic, Socialist, writer Baseball Prospectus, Baseball.FYI, & Beyond the Box Score. Member Internet Baseball Writer's Association of America & Society for American Baseball Research.

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