Eden Park tries to lure Major League Baseball

SARAH HARVEY
Last updated 05:01 30/03/2014
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Major League Baseball looks set to arrive in New Zealand after a high-powered Auckland delegation met US backers, seeking to organise an exhibition game at Eden Park.

If financial backers are found, an All Stars team of players from the 30 US Major League franchises could assemble in Auckland in November 2016.

A pitching mound and diamond would be created, and at least two games could be played over a couple of days. The All Stars would play both an intra-squad game and, potentially, against the New Zealand team, the Diamond Blacks.

The games could mean big money and exposure for Auckland and New Zealand - Major League Baseball (MLB) revenue is expected to top $9 billion this year. Baseball is also a major attraction in Asia.

The initiative follows a successful venture last weekend at the Sydney Cricket Ground, which hosted two warm-up games and the opening two games of the MLB regular season, attracting crowds of almost 40,000 to each game.

The showpiece cost Sydney backers many millions of dollars but brought huge attention to the game in Australia as the MLB continues to target new markets. An Eden Park extravaganza is seen as an extension of Australian moves.

The Auckland delegation who went to Sydney to meet MLB backers, including the owners of the Arizona Diamondbacks franchise, included Baseball New Zealand chief executive Ryan Flynn, Sky TV chief executive John Fellet, Eden Park Trust chief executive David Kennedy and representatives from Auckland Council's tourism arm, ATEED.

Flynn said the response from MLB was "very positive".

He said Murray Cook, who managed the creation of a diamond at the SCG, visited Eden Park about 18 months ago and said it would be possible to fit a baseball field on the Auckland ground. The diamond in Sydney was created in 17 days and similar speed would be necessary in Auckland, to fit in between cricket and rugby.

Kennedy said that since the refurbishment of the stadium in time for Rugby World Cup 2011, the trust had been looking to open the stadium up to other sports. November suited Eden Park's schedule.

There are no confirmed financial backers but a number of baseball-mad private investors travelled with the delegation to Sydney.

Flynn and others hope to interest a private backer to secure the funds needed for the project to get going.

Sky's Fellet, himself a big fan of baseball, said that if MLB came to New Zealand, his network would play host broadcaster and send footage back to the major sports channels in the US.

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"I would be first in line to get tickets," he added.

Brett Riley, the chief executive of ATEED, said MLB saw New Zealand as an "exciting growth market".

In the past four years the number of people playing the sport here has grown from fewer than 1000 to more than 6000.

There are also plans afoot for a baseball academy in Auckland and to build a boutique baseball stadium in the city.

- Sunday Star Times

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