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EXCLUSIVE: Phillies Owner Jim Buck Talks London Series, International Growth of Baseball

 Sidney Smith  |    Jun 7th, 2024 8:00am EDT

(Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

PHILADELPHIA Six years ago, Phillies’ ownership opted to be considered for an international series, and two years ago, they were selected. Planning and strategy will come to life this weekend as they play the Mets in London for the latest MLB International event. 

One of three Phillies’ majority owners, Jim Buck recalls looking at his partners at a Major League Baseball owner’s meeting and feeling it was their time to play in a jewel event like this.

“We recognize that it is in the best interest of baseball,” said Buck in an exclusive interview with World Baseball Network, “to grow that fan interest and to grow the sport.”

MLB has made an explicit effort to expand the game internationally. Buck acknowledged the growth of the NBA and NFL and discussed how this emphasis begins with ideation and execution from the Commissioner’s office.

“It starts at the top with Rob Manfred,” Buck said. “MLB is a well-honed organization with top-notch staffing, technology, and culture… We have an entire committee devoted to international growth.” 

The Phillies openly support the MLB’s initiative to grow the game internationally, not just on the field but in the community and through youth initiatives. 

“Outside of the games, our players will be participating in ambassadorial [events], some of which will be initiated by the MLB and some of which will be initiated by the Phillies, all leading to a big MLB event Friday night,” Buck said. 

The first London Series was 2019 between the Yankees and the Red Sox at Wembley Stadium.

“MLB wouldn’t do these games if they are not [growing the game]; otherwise, it’s just window dressing,” Buck said.

The series will be played at London Stadium on June 8-9. It marks the first time the Phillies will participate in one of MLB’s international series, and because of this, most of the organization wants to attend this monumental event. The Phillies encouraged their staff to participate. 

“We’re the kind of ball club that says it’s a good thing, and we’re going to support them,” Buck said. 

This leads to more costs for the teams participating. As Buck put it, the “big financial undertaking” can impact teams differently.

“I’m not prepared to discuss figures but it is definitely hitting our bottom line,” he said. “Any road trip is on our nickel. It’s the hotels, transportation, and meals. [The international series] is that on steroids. We’re lucky we have some wind in our sails right now, we’re feeling like we can absorb a hit like this. There are no teams that are openly resistant to taking part in an international series; however, some teams can not rationalize it.”

London Series Seeing Uptick in Social Media Engagement

The Philly faithful have been vocal on social media leading up to this weekend’s series. Each MLB team has a verified United Kingdom Twitter account, and the Phillies have the largest social audience, with over 20,000 followers.

Phillies players Bryce Harper and Nick Castellanos have spoken about this unique experience and their excitement about traveling to London to represent the MLB. 

“This is the first time myself and a lot of us are going to be playing baseball in Europe,” right fielder Nick Castellanos said after their last game. “But there are two important baseball games that we’re going to play there.”

Phillies players are extremely excited to explore London between the baseball activities.

“I wish that we had about a week there where we bring four teams over, play like a round robin for a week and a half and really check it out and have some fun,” Bryce Harper told the U.S. Sun.

International Momentum Aiding in Olympic Permanence

As MLB continues to build its calendar around international baseball moments, further extending “America’s pastime” as a leader in global fandom, this series follows those held in Mexico City, Seoul, and the Dominican Republic. These fill the gap between World Baseball Classic games, held every three years, and generate significant international interest.

“The WBC is doing a lot of the hard work, and successfully I might add,” Buck said. 

Buck suggests that the excitement around the international game may give the International Olympic Committee fodder for making baseball a permanent Olympic sport.

Baseball is expected to participate in the 2028 Olympic games in Los Angeles. However, whether the MLB will have its players participate is still uncertain.

“I know for a fact the MLB would not resist the inclusion of baseball in the Olympics,” Buck said. “The challenge will always be whether we are prepared to interrupt our season.”

This would impact the MLB and other professional leagues worldwide that have their season in the Summer. The NHL has laid the groundwork for this, as it has instituted a similar plan for its players who play in the Winter Olympics.

The MLB is benefiting from these series, and the teams participating are also seeing great returns. Without being specific on numbers, 

“These are impressions that are leading to memberships, subscriptions, downloading of apps, and baseball tourism and attendance,” said Buck.

The first pitch for Saturday’s game in London between the Phillies and the Mets is scheduled for 1:10 pm EST and 6:10 pm UK time on FOX. Sunday’s game will be played at 10:10 a.m. EST and 3 p.m. UK time on ESPN.

WBN’s Matt Marsh contributed to this story.

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Sidney Smith