TRADE AND AMERICA’S PASTIME
In a popular mid-summer tradition, the best players in the American League squared off earlier this month against the best players in the National League in an All-Star Game, with the American League pulling off its seventh straight win.
No sport is more American than baseball. Credit goes to colonists who invented variations on games played in England. By 1845, the New York Knickerbocker Baseball Club codified rules of play that define the game today, including a diamond-shaped infield and the three-strike rule.
So many of us grew up playing Little League and we’re still throwing the ball to our kids (if you want to see a grown man cry, cue the last scene of Field of Dreams). Baseball and softball combined had 25 million participants in 2016, making them the most-participated team sports in the United States. That means we buy a whole lot of gloves, bats and protective gear for millions of our little leaguers in addition to top-of-the-line professional gear to support the big leagues.
Americans buy over $47 billion from sporting goods stores every year at a Dick’s Sporting Goods, Bass Pro Shop, Sports Authority and others. We import much of the lower-cost equipment for amateur play, but there’s a rich tradition of high-quality baseball equipment made in the U.S.A. that thrives alongside imports, demonstrating that trade enables a diverse marketplace that benefits us as consumers.
Louisville Sluggers are still made in the United States. Rawlings’ pro gloves are made in Missouri but has production overseas for other lines. Rawlings also makes Major and Minor League official game balls, producing them in Costa Rica. Most athletic footwear is produced outside the United States, but New Balance is banging out high-quality cleats in Boston.
Buy Me Some Peanuts and Cracker Jack
Trade helps bring us the physical gear needed to play, but it also ensures that viewers can watch the game when they aren’t in the stadium. The All-Star Game was televised nationally by FOX Sports but was also broadcast worldwide by network partners in more than 180 countries. Broadcasting rights are a form of trade in services (see our article on Super Bowl Broadcast: Who Has the Rights?).
A Different Kind of North American Trade Deal
In 2016, 27.5 percent of players on the opening day rosters in the Major League were born in 18 countries other than the United States. Now Major League Baseball is expanding its borders in other ways by exploring whether to bring a team back home to Montreal, Canada and create a club in Mexico City, which would be the start of a truly North American Major League.
Exporting American Culture
Baseball has been popular in this hemisphere for decades and we all know that Japanese super fans go crazy for their Tokyo Yakult Swallows, Hanshin Tigers and Yomiuri Giants. Experts who track the baseball industry are seeing significant growth in interest worldwide.
In March 2017, the fourth World Baseball Classic featured teams from the Netherlands, Australia, Taiwan and Israel. The qualifying tournaments saw teams fielded by South Africa, Czech Republic, Spain and Pakistan. While millions of Americans watched the final game between the United States team and Puerto Rico, perhaps even more significant was the attendance of more than one million fans at ballparks around the world from the Tokyo Dome to Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul to Estado Charros de Jalisco in Mexico.
Major League Baseball is also helping to drive global interest in the American pastime through its PLAY BALL initiative. Players from the majors and minors travel to schools throughout the United States and internationally to give kids the opportunity to learn and participate in baseball and softball.
Credit: PlayBall spends a week teaching kids baseball and softball in the greater London area, MLB.com
Tariffs are Not Hitting a Home Run with Sporting Goods Industry
It’s nearly impossible to write about trade these days without touching on tariffs, which have crept into our weekend sports.
Days before the All-Star Game, Bill Sells of The Sports & Fitness Industry Association testified regarding the administration’s proposed tariffs on products from China. He was representing the association’s 300 companies and 750 brands that manufacture and sell sports and fitness products. The association stated support for the President’s efforts to bring China into compliance with international standards for protecting intellectual property, but expressed concern the tariffs would add costs to final goods, straining family budgets to pay for more expensive helmets, baseballs and other sports equipment exported from China.
The association also said the cost of component parts to make equipment like customized golf clubs in the United States would be higher and that member companies’ supply chains cannot pivot fast enough to change sourcing patterns. For products that require leather, like baseball and boxing gloves and athletic footwear, there’s hardly a domestic producer to replace China’s production because American capacity for manufacturing apparel and leather goods dropped 85 percent in the last three decades.
Bart Giamatti is a former president of the National League and commissioner of baseball. Writer Donald Kagan has described Giamatti’s romantic depiction of baseball as a Homeric Odyssey:
“The batter is its hero. He begins at home, but his mission is to venture away from it, encountering various unforeseeable dangers. At each station opponents scheme to put him out by strength or skill or guile. Should they succeed he dies on the bases, defeated. If his own heroic talents are superior, however, he completes the circuit and returns victorious to home, there to be greeted with joy by the friends he left behind.”
We get it. Our family loves taking in a Washington Nationals game and seeks out Minor League games when on summer road trips. But by far the best seat in the house is on the bleachers at our local field where my daughter plays. The grace and athleticism of this sport is worn beautifully on the girls and women who play the game. There’s something fabulous about the juxtaposition of bows and braids sliding into the dirt at home plate. And we agree, every at bat offers suspense, strategy, and the opportunity to build inner strength for every girl on the field.
Trade is part of our lifestyle – play ball!
Andrea Durkin is the Editor-in-Chief of TradeVistas and Founder of Sparkplug, LLC. Ms. Durkin previously served as a U.S. Government trade negotiator and has proudly taught international trade policy and negotiations for the last fourteen years as an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University’s Master of Science in Foreign Service program.