Baseball United, which swung for the sporting history fences by establishing the first professional baseball league in the Middle East and South Asia, announced on Monday its first franchise, the Mumbai Cobras.
The Cobras are the first of four teams that will be announced in the coming weeks, with the Dubai, UAE-based Baseball United poised to host a showcase tournament in November at Dubai International Stadium. The tournament will take place a year after Baseball United was first established.
Baseball United’s player pool consists of more than 200 players from more than 30 countries. Of those, 64 players will be selected for the teams. The remaining players will be drafted in anticipation of the organisation’s inaugural season starting in the fall of 2024.
Baseball United has said several players from the US will play in the league, though it has yet to announce any names.
“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 have 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 boasts a fan base of approximately a billion people in the region.
Shaikh said in the digital announcement on Monday that Baseball United will be introducing some yet-to-be announced rule differences and “things that you’d never see in other professional baseball leagues” to further appeal to cricket audiences.
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 broadcasting rights are now worth more than $6 billion.
Aside from cricket, soccer remains a dominant sport in the Middle East and South Asia regions and its popularity continues to soar. Qatar spent over $220 billion to host the 2022 World Cup, a staggering 15 times more than previous host Russia did in 2018.
Some sports have been able to make inroads into the Middle East. In October of last year, the UAE hosted the Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks in the first National Basketball Association games in the Middle East. The region has also become a prominent destination for various motorsports events, with Formula 1 races held in Bahrain, the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
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