Could Baseball Become the Most-Viewed Sport in India?

It is no surprise to see that cricket has traditionally been the most-watched sport on Indian television. Figures from the FICCI in 2018 showed that wrestling was close to matching it, but cricket is still the sport to beat. 

For example, the 2016 Indian Premier League Final was watched by around 730 million people in the country. However, some recent developments suggest that baseball could challenge cricket’s superiority in the years to come.

MLB Is Pushing for More Growth in India  

Major League Baseball (MLB) is the organisation that runs professional baseball in the US. They are currently pushing hard to grow the sport in other countries around the planet. They already have offices in places such as Japan, Mexico, China, and the UK as they look to open up new markets.

As part of this, they have opened their first Indian office, in New Delhi. MLB has high hopes that this nation of cricket-lovers will embrace baseball, mainly due to the similarities between the two sports.

Their plans for expansion also include giving school kids in New Delhi, Mumbai, and Bangalore the chance to learn the sport. The MLB First Pitch grassroots programme will see top coaches run workshops in all of these cities. Eventually, 300 cities across the nation could receive visits from baseball coaches.

Jim Small is the senior vice president of MLB’s international operations. He said that India has “huge potential for us”. Small said that they see the country as being important in the global growth of their brand. They will also be screening American baseball games live on Facebook for Indian fans.

The Return of the Million Dollar Arm

Another baseball initiative involves the return of the Million Dollar Arm contest. You may remember that J.B. Bernstein created this challenge, as he looked for future baseball stars. It was shown as a reality show on Zee Sports and eventually led to a major 2014 movie based on the success of Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel. 

They became the first Indian men to sign up to pro contracts for a sports team in the US. Neither of them had ever thrown a baseball before entering the contest. Patel joined the Pittsburgh Pirates before returning to India to teach baseball. Singh eventually moved into wrestling and has joined the WWE.

This contest returned in 2019, as the MLB stepped up their search for new baseball stars. It is hoped that young athletes with a talent for cricket might make the switch to the American sport. At the time of writing, it is unclear whether Million Dollar Arm will return to Indian TV screens in 2020.

The New Indian Baseball Star

Another reason that baseball could truly take off her is the success of Karan Patel. In 2019, he became the first player of Indian descent to get drafted into an MLB team. 

Patel grew up playing cricket and baseball in the US.  He called switching between the two sports a “fun transition”, although it does take him some time to adjust each time that he moves from one to the other.

His father Kuldeep Patel played for the US cricket team after emigrating there from India. Karan followed in his footsteps by playing for the USA Under-19 cricket team before winning a college scholarship based on his baseball skills.

He was picked by the Chicago White Sox in the seventh round of the 2019 MLB draft. He now plans to “work as hard as possible” and try to make the team. If he does, then millions of Indians are sure to be keen to tune in and see how he gets on. 

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