In June 2019 the London Stadium will host the first ever Major League Baseball (MLB) game to be staged in Europe, as it welcomes the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees for the first of a two-game series to be played over the next two summers.
Having signed an initial multi-year partnership with the MLB in February, becoming its Official Technology and Communications partner, Canadian telecoms firm Mitel this week announced an international expansion of the relationship. As a title partner, Mitel will be integrated in all activation, branding and marketing surrounding the MLB’s landmark London Series.
Richard Roberts, Mitel vice president (UK, Ireland and EMEA), sat down with Sport Industry Group to discuss the historic opportunity.
What was the motivation for this international expansion of your relationship with MLB?
Well, in February, we announced our role in terms of connecting all 30 (MLB) ballparks across the US. In terms of bringing the instant replay reviews to the fans, that has gone very well. We haven’t interrupted the flow of the game. We’ve shown quality communication collaboration technology. It’s added to the game and added confidence to the fans that the right calls are being made.
The MLB was focused on emphasising that we have to make the right call. They would say, 'if you can provide us with an environment where we can make the right call, great. Plus, if you engage with the fans in that as well, brilliant.
Of course any partnership that goes well, ambitions start to rise. So when we heard that MLB was coming to London and becoming a reality, we just had to be part of it.
Have you found working with sports franchises beneficial for overall business?
We’ve done a lot of work with sports franchises over here, customers in the Premier League, such as becoming Tottenham Hotspur’s official unified communications supplier to their new stadium. There’s also a couple of other announcements we are planning for later in the year.
Understanding how sports franchises and elite teams connect to their fans is becoming more important. It’s analogous to how a business connects to their customers. What we learn through innovative partnerships with the likes of the MLB, we bring straight back into business.
High performing organisations are demanding smarter ways of collaborating and communicating. That’s exactly what the MLB have done. Bringing them over here with us central to that fan experience was an opportunity we had to grab.
What was the allure of baseball for Mitel, especially with the UK market?
Walk down any high-street in the UK and you’ll see baseball caps and those famous MLB logos. There’s a remote connection there and if we can be associated with making that connection real and also show the value that Mitel are bringing to that fan experience, why wouldn’t we be interested?
MLB is a phenomenon, culturally embedded in the US. It’s also a sport that taps into what we enjoy in the UK. We love our stats and the tribal rivalry. It’s an awesome sport, a world sport that right now isn’t available to a world audience, but the timing for this is wonderful. After all, we’ve seen the power of the NFL coming to London.
What can be learnt from the NFL and NBA’s successful transition into London?
This has been many years in the planning and as part of the consideration process, conversations have been had with all franchises that have made that transition. Many of the franchises are global in their outlook anyway.
I think there’s plenty we can learn, but also the fan community is evolving and what they want is evolving. What worked five years ago doesn’t work now. When you visit a new event, it needs to blow you away and leave an impression. I think we have the opportunity to do that here.
We have a good run in to the first event and we have time to develop a conversation with business and with London connecting with Boston and New York. That’s a fantastic opportunity for us to bring some vibrancy into those links.
With NFL and NBA thriving over here, will the competition for a UK audience prove a hindrance or beneficial?
I don’t think we should get hung up on how many of the big US sports are now here. There is an unending appetite for elite sports both in the UK and Europe, so there is plenty of room. Now that it’s going to happen, we’re going to make it absolutely fly. Featuring the two biggest teams in the world, you could not have wished for better. It has the history, the passion, the tribalism, so this stadium will be rocking.
What kind of activation can fans expect around the games?
We’ll be figuring out the activations over the next couple of months and plan to take input from creative professionals. Because we’ve got such a nice run into this, we can look at everything from grassroots to business. This is a moment in time that we need to make sure is capitalised upon. I really do believe that this is an opportunity for us to reset what fans expect from an experience. Shame on us if we don’t make that the event it should be.
What would be considered a success from next year’s event?
Seeing the communications technology work seamlessly and enhance the game would be wonderful. 57,000 fans smiling when they leave the stadium and an experience that blows people away. We want to leave people wanting more. There’s a fanbase here that we want to awaken long-term. This has to be something that has real longevity.
If we can do the two great franchises proud, as London has done with the Olympics, the NFL, the NBA and Nitto ATP Finals, I’m convinced that whatever we can attract to the city will help the economy of London.
What kind of support has the series received from the Mayor of London?
He (Sadiq Khan) recognises what we see, that this could be a pivotal point. We talk about London being open for business, but we need connections now more than ever before. With everything else that’s currently going on, our ability to reach out to other cities and countries to show what we are, is a huge opportunity. Sadiq sees London being a showcase where history will be made. We can put on a show and with partnerships with the likes of the MLB, we can really get the world to look at London.
Do you see these MLB games providing the boost the London Stadium needs?
Looking out at how the London Stadium will be and how we can pull the seats out to look like a proper baseball stadium, that extols the virtues of this facility. This was built as a multi-purpose venue and it will prove itself as that. The reason baseball is here is because it can be here. It (The London Stadium) can be as flexible as you need it to be and I’m convinced spectators will be in awe when MLB takes over.
What’s the long-term goal moving forward for Mitel?
We are a market leader in the UK, but we are very poorly known. One in four business phones on the desks in the UK are Mitel phones. It’s important for us to rise up and say, ‘this is what we can do, and this is the impact we can have on a global franchise.’ We are a partner you can trust, just as MLB has trusted in us.
My vision for the UK is for Mitel to be associated as the key partner if you have ambitions to be a high performing business. To leverage your communications collaboration strategy, you come to Mitel.
Do you see this opening up further gateways for Mitel moving forward?
Sporting organisations set their own ambition and if they look at communication collaboration technology and they want to set themselves apart, then there’s opportunity for us to partner. We are seeing them lead business more and more. They recognise that if they can’t provide an experience, fans will go elsewhere, because there’s choice now.
Because we are at the centre of this particular experience, if the right call is made, it’s on the back of our technology. That shows that we are inherent to the offer. That’s hugely empowering for us. If we can enable people to communicate and collaborate, sport becomes a better experience. That’s exactly what we are here to do.