Baseball in Brazil? U.S. sports rise in the land of soccer

Thu Feb 13, 2014 4:00pm EST
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By Brian Winter

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazil is and always will be a soccer country, especially during a year in which it hosts the World Cup.

Nevertheless, the major U.S. sports leagues for football, baseball and basketball are seeing unprecedented growth here as Brazilians become wealthier, more worldly and even frustrated with the shortcomings of their own national pastime.

The newfound success of the U.S.' National Football League (NFL), Major League Baseball (MLB) and the National Basketball Association (NBA) here has been a surprise even to their own executives, although Rio de Janeiro's beaches have not been taken over by touch football just yet.

Baseball and football remain niche sports in Brazil, with even basic rules a mystery to most observers here. Basketball has a longer tradition here, but is still likely not even the second-most popular sport in the country. That is thought to be either volleyball or mixed-martial arts.

Yet each of the U.S. major sports leagues can point to important milestones in Brazil during the past two years.

The NBA became the first U.S. league to open a permanent office in Brazil, in 2012. The NFL saw its average TV audience in Brazil double in 2013.

MLB welcomed the big-league debut of its first Brazilian-born player in 2012 and at least two others are expected to make professional rosters this year.

"There has been an awakening of the Brazilian market and a lot of people are benefiting from it," said Chris Parsons, the NFL's senior vice president for international affairs.   Continued...

Children from Pirituba club, a Brazilian baseball club, are pictured during a summer baseball festival for children at the Sesc Belenzinho club in Sao Paulo January 19, 2014. REUTERS/Nacho Doce