(Reuters) - The Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, two of baseball’s iconic franchises, will bring one of sport’s greatest rivalries to Europe with two regular-season games at the London Stadium next year, Major League Baseball (MLB) said on Tuesday.
Boston will play as the home team in the first MLB games to be staged in Europe, on June 29 and June 30, 2019, as the two famous adversaries meet for the first time outside either Boston or New York at the stadium that hosted the 2012 Olympic Games.
MLB also confirmed it is committed to playing in London in 2020 as it tries to “establish a long-term footprint in the city.”
Baseball is following in the footsteps of American football, which has regularly held NFL games in London since 2007, and basketball, with NBA matches having become a regular fixture in the capital since 2011.
“Because this is our first foray into Europe, it’s really important that we make as big a splash as possible,” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred told a news conference in London.
“In order to do that, we’re going to bring you one of the best rivalries in baseball, maybe one of the best rivalries in all of sport — the Red Sox and the Yankees.”
Describing the teams as “two of our most storied franchises”, Manfred said the historic fixtures would take place in a stadium specially reconfigured to stage baseball in front of 55,000 fans.
The news represents a coup for the mayor of London Sadiq Khan, who has been pushing to make his city the “capital of world sport.”
His enthusiasm to bring big-time baseball to the capital even saw him two years ago throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at a game between the New York Mets and Minnesota Twins.
“We hope this series will be the beginning of a relationship with London that will persist,” said Manfred, explaining that an agreement was in place for baseball to also return to London for two matches in 2020 with teams yet to be announced.
Boston Red Sox Principal Owner John W. Henry, who also owns English Premier League soccer club Liverpool, said: “There were significant challenges that had to be overcome.
“This series will surely be the most significant international event to date for Major League ball.
“I can’t wait to hear someone shout ‘play ball’ at London Stadium.”
Britain will now join other international venues to have hosted regular-season games, along with Mexico, Japan, Puerto Rico and Australia.
“All the hard work has paid off,” said Khan, describing it as an “historic” partnership.
“There is no better way to start the London Series and the first Major League Baseball fixture in Europe than a clash between two heavyweights of international sport.”
A test of the appetite for the London venture is that the two fixtures will clash with key World Cup cricket matches, with Australia and New Zealand playing a day-nighter at Lord’s, also in London, on June 29, before England meet India at Edgbaston in Birmingham the following day.
Reporting by Ian Chadband and Hardik Vyas, editing by Ed Osmond and Toby Davis