NY Yankees swing for first base in China

Tuesday, January 30, 2007; 4:11 PM

BEIJING (Reuters) - The New York Yankees will send coaches, scouts and marketing personnel to China and train Chinese players at facilities overseas in a bid to boost baseball in the world's biggest market, top executives said on Tuesday.

An agreement signed with China's baseball administration would see Yankees staff posted to China "in the next few months" and training academies built in Chinese cities "in the near future," Yankees president Randy Levine told a news conference.

"We will provide our best talent, our best knowledge and the full commitment of our financial and personnel resources to this great strategic alliance," Levine added.

"Hopefully in a very short time, Chinese players will be in the United States and wherever Major League Baseball is played."

Levine, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman and an entourage of corporate sales and sponsorship executives arrived in Beijing this week for talks with Chinese baseball officials, on the way to Japan for further meetings with strategic partners.

Yankees executives declined to disclose the cost of the partnership but said it would be "significant."

"We also intend to be here for a very long time," Levine said.

"This is a great, great market. It's growing and we're confident both in broadcast and sponsorships and each and every form of revenue for all of Major League Baseball that there will be ample opportunities for all parties to reap the benefits."


Baseball has been played in China since the 1870s, after exchange students brought the game back from the United States, but remains a fringe sport today in a market dominated by soccer and basketball.

But conscious of the Beijing 2008 Olympics, where baseball will be a featured sport for the last time, China has ramped up its domestic game.

The professional China Baseball League was established in 2003 and its American-coached national team plays practice matches against major league teams.

The Chinese Baseball Association president Hu Jianguo said there were now over 500 professional players and 50,000 amateurs in China, but the national team remained "distant" from the strongest teams in the world.

China struck out of the Asian leg of the World Baseball Classic in March 2006 after suffering heavy defeats to Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

"The only way to close the gap is to have more exchanges with the strongest teams in the world, with teams like the Mariners and the Yankees," Hu said.

A lack of television coverage has also hampered the game's development.

America's major league baseball reaches only a fraction of Chinese households through cable sport channel ESPN and the domestic league has not been carried on local channels since 2005.

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