New-kid-on-block Baseball United ME splash



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First professional baseball league in the Middle East Image: Baseball United

When the opening pitch is thrown at the Dubai International Stadium in Dubai (UAE) in November it will signal the official start of the first-ever professional baseball league in the Middle East and South Asia.

‘AGBI’ stated that and the power broker behind the ambitious project hopes the 25,000-seater venue will be at least a quarter full to mark the inaugural match between Mumbai Cobras (India’s first pro baseball team) and Karachi Monarchs (the first professional baseball team in Pakistan’s history).

The 25,000-capacity Dubai International Stadium, formerly known as the Dubai Sports City Cricket Stadium, is a multipurpose stadium in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

The Baseball United is an upcoming professional baseball league in the Middle East and South Asia. It plans to begin play in Dubai in 2023, with four teams representing Cities in India, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Commented Kash Shaikh, President and majority owner of Baseball United, “The lower bowl holds about 7,500. If we can even fill that, it’s going to be pretty monumental.”

‘AGBI’ further stated that to put this into context, when India played Pakistan in the men’s T20 Asia Cup last year, some 24,511 cricket fans turned out to cheer on their respective side.

It’s what Shaikh describes as a “massive challenge and massive opportunity baked into one. There’s no such thing as an overnight success. We’ve got to put in the work. The first year is going to be very hard, but we have a resilient group that’s had a lot of wins and a lot of losses, but they know how to build. Over time, we’ll be able to grow this into what we believe will be the next greatest sport in the region.”

The venture is being funded by Shaikh and “a group of carefully selected entrepreneurs and baseball legends” from the United States.

This includes the Major League Baseball (MLB) teams Seattle Mariners Hall of Famer Felix Hernandez and New York Yankees world champion Nick Swisher.

Meetings have already taken place with the region’s top sovereign wealth funds, including representatives from Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) and the Qatar Investment Authority.

Abu Dhabi (UAE)-based the Mubadala Investment Company – a sovereign investor – manages a diverse portfolio of assets and investments in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and abroad, to generate sustainable financial returns for its shareholder, the Government of Abu Dhabi.

The Public Investment Fund (PIF) is the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia. It is among the largest sovereign wealth funds in the world with total estimated assets of US$776 billion (£538 billion). It was created in 1971 for the purpose of investing funds on behalf of the Government of Saudi Arabia. The wealth fund is controlled by the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler since 2015.

Added Shaikh, “We haven’t yet opened up an institutional funding round because we don’t need to. We do envisage raising a good amount of capital from here in the region with the right partners but we want to show them what we can do first.”
 

Baseball vs. Cricket and Football

Shaikh says they had initially hoped to tap into the 50,000 American expat market, but quickly discovered that “there is way more baseball fans than any of us ever imagined”.

According to his figures, this includes 53 million avid baseball fans in India, 12.5 million in Pakistan, 1.5 million in Saudi Arabia, and 800,000 in the UAE.

When it comes to competing against other hugely popular sports in the region, Shaikh says that the baseball fans are more “premium” than the cricket lovers – “The baseball fan is more educated, there’s a higher employment rate, higher income than not only the cricket fan, but the average citizen. They spend more time on social media, stream more content, play more sports, and go to more live events.”

As for football, according to Neil Joyce, founder and head honcho of the data consultancy CLV Group, there are 30 million actively engaging soccer fans in the Middle East, with six million alone following the English Premier League – “While baseball as a product in the Middle East may face a strong task to compete with soccer, there must be a business case for targeting South East Asian audiences where baseball has stronger affinity and product.”

Chicago (US)-based the Customer Lifetime Value Group (CLV) is the data and insights company for sport and entertainment. Using its proprietary FRI data, insights, expertise, and technology solution, it unlocks the engagement and monetization opportunities of the fans and followers that have been previously unobtainable. The firm identify and create the pathway to reach, engage and convert the 95 percent unknown. By utilizing its data, the company looks beyond the known fan and remove the guesswork.

London (UK)-based the Premier League is the highest level of the English football league system. Contested by 20 clubs, it operates on a system of promotion and relegation with the English Football League (EFL). Seasons typically run from August to May with each team playing 38 matches against all other teams both home and away.

Simon Chadwick, Professor of Sport and Geopolitical Economy at the Skema Business School in Paris, adds that how Baseball United engages Gen Z and Gen Alpha (the demographic cohort succeeding Generation Z) consumers will be “an acid test of whether the sport can establish a foothold”.

Competing alongside the teams from Mumbai and Karachi on the opening weekend will be the Dubai Wolves and the Abu Dhabi Falcons.

The opening showcase weekend will be played over three days in November between the four franchises.

The first full season next year will see the number of franchises double to eight with 65 matches planned – at least half played in Dubai with the remainder in Abu Dhabi and Doha (Qatar), with two of the 2022 World Cup stadiums eyed up as potential venues.

The 2022 FIFA World Cup™ was the 22nd FIFA World Cup™, the quadrennial world championship for national football teams organized by FIFA. It took place in Qatar from November 20th-December 18th, 2022, after the country was awarded the hosting rights in 2010.

In 2025 the league will expand into Saudi Arabia.

In the United States every single President is among those to have thrown the ceremonial pitch, but for Baseball United the identity of the person to take the mound in November remains a closely- guarded secret.

Concluded Shaikh, “There’s a healthy competition and debate on who it is. We’ve got a lot of top candidates.”

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