Baseball set to give MGM Japanese foothold

26 February 2019

MGM Resorts has ramped up its efforts to gain a foothold in the Japanese market after being confirmed as the title sponsor of Major League Baseball’s (MLB) season-opening fixtures in the country next month.

The 2019 MGM MLB Opening Series will feature two high-profile games at the Tokyo Dome between the Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners on March 20-21, as well as games between the MLB teams and clubs from Japan’s top baseball league in day/night double-headers on March 17-18. The title sponsorship deal is supported by the MLB Players’ Association, the league said.

The US league unveiled a multi-year partnership with MGM Resorts International in November, covering league and team sponsorships, data usage, promotion across MLB-owned media platforms and domestic and international activations.

However, it is significant that Japan has been selected as the location for MGM’s first major marketing activation around an event operated by the league.

MGM said that it plans to build a “uniquely Japanese, world-class integrated resort” in the country after the government finally passed into law a long-awaited bill last July, despite significant opposition from politicians and the public.

However, with the legislation only allowing for three casinos to be developed before a review in the late 2020s, several major operators seeking to establish a Japanese base are set to miss out initially.

With that in mind, MGM is hoping to steal a march on its rivals.

Last month, former Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval was unveiled as MGM Resorts International’s new president of global gaming development, with a particular focus on Japan.

Speaking about his appointment, Sandoval said that MGM Resorts chairman and CEO Jim Murren had formed critical relationships in Japan and in sports. He added: “I look forward to building upon this strong foundation”.

Aside from the Opening Series sponsorship, MGM Resorts is already planning to play a prominent role in supporting MLB’s grassroots baseball events in Japan. One such event will be the league’s Road Show, which tours the country, giving fans an opportunity to participate in activities such as batting and pitching cages, as well as virtual reality experiences.

The activations are likely to bring MGM into contact with a significant proportion of the Japanese public.

Outside North and Central America, Japan is baseball’s biggest market. Upon the request of the Tokyo 2020 local organising committee, the sport has been added to the programme for next year’s Olympics, despite having not featured at the Games since 2008.

Next month, MGM plans to activate at fan-facing events outside the Tokyo Dome ballpark, while also having its logo on a jersey patch on the Athletics’ right sleeve during the Opening Series games.

“MGM Resorts will have a great opportunity to engage with and experience the extraordinary passion of baseball fans in Japan,” said Noah Garden, MLB’s executive vice-president of commerce.

However, it remains to be seen whether MGM will have the opportunity to build on its lobbying and marketing efforts in Japan with the league’s future Opening Series endeavours. This year will represent the fifth time that MLB has opened its season in Tokyo, but the last Opening Series in the Japanese capital took place seven years ago.

Image: Dick Thomas Johnson