Major League Baseball Makes the Perfect Pitch
   2014-05-20 16:48:12      Web Editor: Liu Yuanhui

A young baseball fan poses for a photograph during MLB China's Perfect Pitch event at Solana shopping mall, Beijing, May 17, 2014. [Photo: Wiggin]

By Stuart Wiggin

This past weekend Major League Baseball's (MLB) China operation held one of its signature events at the Solana mall in Beijing. Contestants from across China gathered in Beijing as part of Perfect Pitch, a competition held by MLB in conjunction with Letv where young participants progress through regional competitions in order to get into a final training camp. The grand prize on offer - a business class flight to New York where the winner will be submerged in baseball culture. During the Perfect Pitch event, caught up with Leon Xie, Managing Director at MLB China, for his take on the sport's grassroots programs and the overall progress of MLB in China.

What are the major aims of events like Perfect Pitch?

Events like this provide a handy experience to the majority of people who didn't get a chance to grow up with baseball; to touch and feel the game. This is our second year here. Last year was fantastic. Over two days, we received 560,000 people. It was packed, and this year we anticipate a new record. Many young kids come and stay for half the day.

Outside of promoting the sport, how else is MLB engaged with the Chinese market?

We have a long-term commitment to this market. We want to be good local citizens while we're here. So, we've helped out with earthquake related recovery in Dujiangyan (Sichuan), visiting a school hit by the earthquake. We took baseballs and equipment. We didn't go there to promote the game; we just tried to bring a smile back to their faces. Elsewhere, this year we launched a campaign called "Mom, I love you" within our university league. We provide pink baseball bats and pink jerseys, and we invite players' moms to see their sons play the game. More importantly, we give a group of players who are about to graduate a chance to say publicly to their moms, "I love you mom." For Chinese people, it's quite a dramatic experience. Culture-wise, we don't say that directly, not even to mention publicly. It was fantastic."

How would you characterize the general progress of the MLB within China over the past few years?

In the past 4 or 5 years there's been quite a dramatic level of progress in terms of introducing the game to the people. To this date, we've begun to see more and more young kids and college students playing baseball. For example, we've seen college graduates who moved back to (their hometowns of) Shandong and Hunan who have set up their own university leagues -going round knocking on doors at university campuses, setting up the batting cages, helping local college students and school PE teachers. This isn't something the MLB is directly involved in, but those (kids) are all from our college program. So, we've begun to see the organic growth of the program.

And let's take a place like Chengdu, the local education government there decided earlier this year to join our Play Ball program which is dedicated to elementary school and middle school students. So, we're starting to see more and more investment and attention from young white-collar people to the game. Not just the game itself, but also the culture and lifestyle, the clothes and apparel that the game is able to bring in. It's a very new and unique experience for a market traditionally familiar with sports like Ping-Pong or basketball.

How have the MLB stores been performing within China?

The store has been doing fantastic. There was a period 3 or 4 years before where they were really struggling to keep the door open and maintain a breakeven point. But last year, we started to see sales really growing and we've seen more categories being opened. Over the past few years, they expanded from one category to three categories, with MLB kids and sunglass lines; so it's not just apparel for young teenagers. Our sales have been booming.

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