In the 1970s, the Chinese government issued a pamphlet declaring that baseball would “help build the (Communist) party” by promoting “the diligent study of Marxism, Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought.”
Since then, the Chinese haven't progressed very far on the field. They bombed out of the 2009 World Baseball Classic in the first round. But off the field, it's a whole different story.
Today, the Times revealed that China is putting up the capital for a $1.2 billion bid for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Frank McCourt approached the Chinese when he was scrounging for cash a few years ago. Frank's plan was that a state-controlled investment group would give him the capital to buy an English Premier League team — while leaving Frank in total control of his global sports enterprise. The Chinese passed.
But apparently that didn't mean they weren't interested in the Dodgers. They just weren't interested in Frank.
So is this a smart play? The Dodgers' revenue is declining, the seats are mostly empty, the team is subpar. Whoever takes over will have to pull a turnaround. On the other hand, baseball teams don't usually decline in value. Whatever they pay for the franchise today, it'll be worth more down the road.
Chinese ownership would also give the Dodgers a leg up in cracking the vast Chinese market. China is not wild for baseball, but if the Dodgers were seen as “China's team,” maybe they'd start buying merchandise and watching the games.
Stateside, there may be some jingoistic backlash to the whole idea. But look: Could it be worse than Frank McCourt?
Update: Of course, MLB will have to approve the deal. Would they? In 2003, MLB's vice president of international market development, Jim Small, traveled to Beijing and said, “Baseball was born in America. Now it belongs to the world.”
Not sure if this is what he had in mind.
He went on to say, “If baseball is truly to be considered a global sport, it needs to be played in some key countries — and China is top of that list.”