As baseball winds down in North America, it is just getting going in Australia. The Australian Baseball League now heads into its seventh season, and the league, and the sport in general, have been buoyed by the coming World Baseball Classic, the inclusion of the sport in the 2020 Olympics, and the continued grassroots support of Major League Baseball. We wanted to find out more, and checked in with the new Assistant GM of the Sydney Blue Sox, Jonathan Lees. Lees joined the Blue Sox after working as a Development Manager for Cricket NSW and the Sydney Thunder cricket team.
We talked about development, marketing and where the game on the diamond can be heading…
The Blue Sox have been in the ABL several years now, how has the business grown since 2010?
The Blue Sox have maintained a solid following throughout the years, with steady growth, boosted by things such as online streaming of matches. The following of baseball in general is quite a niche market in Sydney.
MLB brought a series to Australia, how did that help push baseball along?
It drew attention to baseball in Australia and highlighted the wonderful facilities we have on offer. The series also showcased the passionate fan-base Australia possesses, regardless of the sport. The series didn’t align with the ABL season however, so it didn’t see a direct benefit.
What are the grassroots efforts like to grow the ABL?
In recent times we have seen a closer integration between the ABL franchises and the State organizations, who are responsible for the direct growth of grassroots baseball.
The ABL teams can be seen as the promotional arm of the State organizations.
How important is social and how do the Blue Sox use social to grow the global fan base?
Very important – it’s how we connect with our fans and the broader community. We are striving to grow our social following and increase fan interactions through these channels.
In terms of a US perspective, is the business like A baseball or the NBA D-league? How have you used promotions to grow casual interest?
I spent three US summers working in Western North Carolina and our local team was the Asheville Tourists (Single-A Rockies affiliate). I would say that they are the same at a spectator and standard level. However, the challenge for any sport in Sydney is the number of teams…Asheville has one, the Tourists, and everyone gets around them as ‘Asheville’s Team’. In Sydney there are over 30 major sporting teams all competing in the same mmarket, meaning you cannot simply rely on the locals to show up, as there are often numerous other sporting or social events on.
There are two major events coming, the World Baseball Classic and the Tokyo Olympics. How will Aussie baseball use both or either to grow the game?
Baseball Australia’s mission is, ‘Baseball will be a mainstream fixture of Australian sport and culture’. The aim is to use these events to target the non-traditional market to grow the game. At the same time, it is crucial to have the infrastructure in place to accommodate an expected increase e.g. sustainable grassroots programs in place, commercial backing.
How aware are the Blue Sox fans of all going on in MLB? Is it significant or just too far away to make a difference?
Baseball fans and players in Australia tend to be big followers of the MLB. Online coverage or ESPN telecasts are hugely popular and many Australians that travel to the US will attend a ball game or two.
Cricket is one of the sports that is king in Australia. is there a crossover in the marketing of the world’s two biggest stick and ball sports, or are they separate?
In Australia, the marketing of the two sports is quite different. Cricket has a phenomenal amount of resources available and it is utilised effectively to saturate the market. Baseball, on the other hand, has to use resources more sparingly. Cricket has a significant focus on the grassroots participation, whereas baseball tends to focus on the player pathways.
What has been the one biggest boost that the Blue Sox or the ABL has had to grow the game in recent years?
Streaming matches live and online through ABLTV.com has opened up many new doors. It allows for more viewers, which leads to greater commercial investment, which in turn provides more resources for the sport.
How and where will the Blue Sox look to get their biggest business boost in the next few years? brands, digital, media etc.
The Blue Sox are looking to partner with like-minded brands, especially those that link to our target market. By cementing these relationships we hope it will allow for the correct infrastructure to be implemented.
Digital interaction is another big one. We are striving to interact with fans and the wider community more effectively.
Finally, we are putting together a team on the field that wins games. Fans in Sydney love when their team wins and this is another focus of ours.