DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Baseball United, which swung into sports history by establishing the first professional baseball league in the Middle East and South Asia, announced its first franchise, the Mumbai Cobras, on Monday.
The Cobras are the first of four teams to be announced in the coming weeks, with Dubai, United Arab Emirates-based Baseball United set to host a showcase tournament at the Dubai International Stadium in November. The tournament takes place one year after the founding of Baseball United.
Baseball United’s player pool consists of more than 200 players from more than 30 countries. Of these, 64 players are selected for the teams. The remaining players will be drafted in anticipation of the organization’s inaugural season, which begins in Fall 2024.
Baseball United has said that several players from the US will play in the league, but it has not announced any names yet.
“Major League Baseball is over 150 years old and has so much romance and pageantry. And, you know, it’s one of the few American sports that has yet to be exported to this part of the world,” said Kash Shaikh, president and CEO of Baseball United.
Baseball will have to compete with cricket, another bat-and-ball game that is the most popular sport in many South Asian countries and has a fan base of about a billion people in the region.
Shaikh said in the digital announcement Monday that Baseball United will be introducing some yet-to-be-announced rule differences and “things you would never see in other professional baseball leagues” to further appeal to the cricketing public.
Cricket’s shortest and most exciting format took off in India in 2008 when the Indian Premier League was formed. The IPL’s five-year broadcast rights are now worth more than $6 billion.
Aside from cricket, football remains a dominant sport in the Middle East and South Asia and its popularity continues to rise. Qatar has spent more than $220 billion to host the 2022 World Cup, no less than 15 times more than previous host Russia did in 2018.
Some sports have made their appearance in the Middle East. Last October, the United Arab Emirates hosted the Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks in the first games of the National Basketball Association in the Middle East. The region has also become a prominent destination for various motorsport events, with Formula 1 races in Bahrain, the UAE And Saudi Arabia.
Dubai, Baseball United’s operations center and future host of the first baseball game, is a strategic location for the starting baseball federation. “Dubai will be the base, the epicenter and the launch pad,” said Shaikh.
Not only is the UAE well-endowed with wealthy investors, but the country is also home to over 4 million Indian and Pakistani expatriates, many of whom have embraced cricket as a kind of religion. An estimated 133 million people tuned in to watch the two Asian heavyweights the last time they faced each other at the Dubai International Stadium in August 2022, according to streaming platform Disney+ Hotstar.
Mariano Rivera and Barry Larkintwo of Major League Baseball’s most decorated former stars with a combined six World Series Championships and 25 All-Star Game selections, are two high-profile investors in Baseball United.
Shaikh says the federation will own the first four teams and four additional teams to be revealed next year. He hopes that the teams can eventually earn a lucrative return at auction.
“Sports team valuations are really becoming the new gold, if you look at how they’ve performed over the past 40 years, 50 years relative to the market,” he said.
According to Forbes Magazine, the Mumbai Indians are the most valuable franchise in the Indian Premier League with an estimated net worth of $1.3 billion, while the average value of MLB teams is up 12% this year to $2.32 billion.
Inspired by the MLB and IPL, Shaikh says revenue sharing at Baseball United “will happen at the broadcast level, at the sponsor level, at the ticketing level, at the (merchandise) level.”
Baseball United said it will announce new franchises, TV licensing group partnerships and sponsorships in the coming weeks.