MLB is strengthening its UK ties with Mets-Phillies London Series after Paris won't play ball

LONDON (AP) — Summertime in Paris with reservations not far from the Eiffel Tower. Sounds dreamy.

Major League Baseball’s plans to play a series in the French capital fell through, though.

You know what city doesn’t disappoint when it comes to American sports? London.

The New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies play a two-game set this weekend at London Stadium for the league's third visit in the past five years — ahead of another date in 2026.

It’s a marriage that has worked. The city boasts of a big economic impact, and MLB gains more international exposure.

“We've clearly identified the U.K. as a priority market and an area that we plan to emphasis for international growth of Major League Baseball,” Chris Marinak, the league's chief operations and strategy officer, told The Associated Press in an interview.

Paris was in line to host in 2025 but the league pulled the plug in November, unable to land a promoter. The status of the government-owned Stade de France was also a factor as the facility — which will host athletics events during the Paris Olympics — was put up for sale last year. Stadium officials also cited a scheduling conflict.

Just like this season's opening series in South Korea, the recent Mexico City games, and the upcoming London ones, Paris was identified as a destination in the March 2022 labor deal between MLB and the players’ association.

The New York Yankees were said to be interested in playing in the French capital — but the games were never officially announced. Marinak confirmed there's no current plan to move that series to another international city.

“That particular one, I would say, really just had never left the conceptual stage to the point where it was scheduled or officially calendared,” he said.

Taking it to the next level involves “planning, putting the event together, venues, promoters, et cetera,” he said.

“We would have had to make a lot of leaps forward from where we started. We ultimately just felt like there were just too many moving parts at the time to make it happen,” Marinak said. “We’re not ruling it out as a future option. I don’t think we’ve gotten to the point yet where we’ve really sketched out specifics on what the next conceptual locations for a game could be.”

The consortium that runs the 80,000-capacity Stade de France, located just north of the city in Saint-Denis, is in charge until next August. The government is taking bids for a new long-term contract.

“It would have been impossible to actually stage the MLB games during the weekend that they had in mind,” Stade de France director of development and strategy Florent Coulon said, citing the French Cup final in late May and soccer national team commitments afterward.

Gaétan Alibert, a baseball author and podcaster in France, said he’s confident Paris will eventually get a series once the stadium management question is settled. Interest is growing, he said, noting L'Equipe magazine dedicated a cover to a baseball player — featuring Shohei Ohtani in April — for the first time in its history.

The Parc des Princes is located near Roland Garros but is smaller, with a capacity around 48,000.

The Paris experience hasn't dampened MLB's hopes for Europe, Marinak said, though a year ago London was described as “ the jumping off point ” for Europe.

“At this point there’s no new location or venue or anything that has crossed past the stages of conceptual conversation,” Marinak said.

London Stadium, where Usain Bolt won gold at the 2012 London Olympics, is big enough to configure into a baseball field. The NFL's international plan is in overdrive — made easier by being able to pop into soccer stadiums around the world. Even cricket venues tend to be too small for baseball.

Local support is vital. The London city government initially provided a grant of 300,000 pounds ($380,000) in 2017 to lure MLB — the Yankees and Boston Red Sox in 2019 played the league's debut game in Europe — plus commitments around security, transportation and promotion. The city has also contributed financially to MLB's “legacy program.”

Last year's series — the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs split a two-game set — created a $67 million boost for London's economy, in an estimate based on responses of 6,200 fans at the games.

Attendance averaged 55,000 with an estimated 71% coming from the U.K.

The league said #LondonSeries trended globally on X on both game days, that its U.K. social media channels have achieved 133% growth in the past year, and that MLB merchandise sales in Britain are up 43% over last year.

MLB’s “growing partnership” with the BBC resulted in distributing the first World Series game on BBC digital platforms last year, the league said. That's after the BBC signed a deal in late 2022 to begin showing some games, including the London series, each season.

The league has tapped Wrexham co-owner and Phillies fan Rob McElhenney to help promote the weekend series.

English fans have grown accustomed to the American-style gameday experience — the NFL has been staging games in London since 2007. Mayor Sadiq Khan says he wants to bring the Super Bowl to London — an idea that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell all but shot down in 2023.

London also hosted an annual NBA game for nearly a decade before it moved to Paris.

But the MLB pushing deeper into Europe — especially with language barriers — will be a harder sell, said Boris Helleu, a senior lecturer in sports marketing at the University of Caen Normandy.

“For Europeans, for instance, the rules are quite difficult,” said Helleu, who is a baseball fan. "(American football and basketball) are easier to understand and maybe more spectacular.”

Despite the Paris setback, MLB's international schedule has been busy. This weekend's games will complete a slate of six regular-season games played outside the U.S. and Canada this season. There were four last year and eight in 2019.

“We’re really pleased with the trajectory that we’re on in the U.K.,” Marinak said.