It may have taken a few tries, but the World Baseball Classic is a hit. Though the Championship Round has yet to be played, the tournament has already set an all-time attendance record.
Through the first two rounds of the event, 976,828 fans have attended WBC games. That figure exceeds the previous record of 885,212, which was set in 2013. Attendance is up 24 percent this year, according to a press release distributed by Major League Baseball.
That record is only going to grow larger in the coming days. Three games still remain before the 2017 tournament is over. Netherlands will take on Puerto Rico on Monday, USA plays Japan on Tuesday and the winners take part in the championship game on Wednesday. For the first time in WBC history, the event will draw over 1 million fans.
That news shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone paying close attention to the tournament. Saturday’s Dominican Republic vs. USA matchup at Petco Park drew a sellout crowd of 43,002 fans. It was the eighth game during this year’s event to draw at least 40,000 fans.
From a spectator standpoint, it certainly seems as though the WBC is getting a lot more attention this time around. Some of that might be due to Team USA’s strong performance thus far, but it seems as though the tournament has been better marketed this year.
On top of that, fans seem to be far more invested in watching games where the participants actually care, as opposed to meaningless spring training games. The difference between the two is obvious to anyone watching. Players participating in the WBC have spoken passionately about the pride they feel while representing their country. Meanwhile, Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun complained about how long spring training drags on.
With the event now gaining popularity, it will be interesting to see if that has an impact on whether more players are willing to participate in the future. While Team USA has performed well, a major storyline surrounding the club has been the lack of superstar players willing to play for their country.
Mike Trout and Bryce Harper presumably declined invitations to participate, as did Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner. The WBC is meant to show off the best each country has to offer, and it’s tough to make that argument for Team USA when all those players are missing from the roster.
That’s looking into the future, though. For now, everything surrounding the event seems positive. The fans are engaged and the games have been exciting. If Team USA can actually pull off a victory, that would only further increase fan interest here. But even if they fall short, it’s clear spectators prefer this brand of baseball over the bland monotony of spring training.
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