(Reuters) – The next chapter in one of the most heated rivalries in professional sport will be written next week in London when the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox play the first two Major League Baseball games in Europe.
MLB may lag behind the other major U.S.-based sports leagues when it comes to establishing a foothold in Europe but they are hoping to catch up quickly with a mouthwatering match-up featuring teams that even non-baseball fans would easily know.
The Yankees are a globally recognized brand and MLB’s most decorated franchise with 27 World Series titles while the Red Sox have won more titles than any other MLB team this century after picking up their fourth last year and ninth of all time.
The rivals, who are battling for top spot in the American League East division, play on June 29-30 at the London Stadium, the former Olympic Stadium built for the 2012 Summer Games and now home to Premier League soccer team West Ham United.
MLB gained access to the stadium earlier this month and, after determining there was not enough time to install real grass, it was decided the Yankees and Red Sox will play each other on artificial turf for the first time.
“It’s the first Yankees-Red Sox game out of the country, so why not a lot of firsts?” New York pitcher CC Sabathia said. “I think it will be fine.”
Following games in Mexico and Japan in recent years, MLB is making its first foray into Europe with hopes of expanding its international reach with the help of its two most-storied franchises.
The match-up has drawn plenty of interest, with ticket seller StubHub saying in March that the first game was already the best-selling of the 2019 MLB season.
Both teams have played on international soil over the past several years, visiting the Tokyo Dome for season openers. New York opened the 2004 season with a two-game series against Tampa Bay and Boston opened 2008 with two games against Oakland.
The London series will be a meaningful one as New York and Boston, who occupy the first and third spots respectively on Forbes’ most valuable MLB teams list, take their fight for supremacy in the American League East to Europe.
“We could not be happier that Commissioner (Rob) Manfred has been able to make this a reality. This series will surely be the most significant international event to date for Major League Baseball,” ” said Red Sox owner John Henry.
“I can’t wait to hear someone shout ‘Play Ball’ at London Stadium.”
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Ken Ferris)