MLB commissioner hints that Mexico could be home of next expansion team

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred speaks at a news conference at MLB headquarters. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred speaks at a news conference at MLB headquarters. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)  (2011 Getty Images)

Major League Baseball's new commissioner hinted this week the league's next expansion teams could take professional baseball out of the continental United States and into Mexico.

Commissioner Rob Manfred didn't give too much away during an interview with Canadian media, but he did say that the Mexican and Canadian markets would be places where the league is looking to expand.

"Mexico and Canada present the most fertile ground just in terms of the level of baseball interest and the proximity to our existing franchises," Manfred told Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper.

While the MLB currently is seeking to make baseball work in existing markets, especially in struggling ones like Tampa Bay and Oakland, Manfred added that if relocating to a new area is best for the league than he would consider moving a current team to either Mexico or Canada.

"We have always been realistic," he said. "At the end of the day, relocation to another market could be the only solution."

The talk of expanding to Mexico and Canada comes amid a strong push for MLB to bring back to bring a team back to Montreal. The Expos played in Montreal from 1969 to 2004, before the team moved to Washington D.C. and changed their name to the Nationals.

More than 80,000 tickets have already been sold for the two upcoming exhibition games between Toronto and Cincinnati at Olympic Stadium, built for the 1976 Games and home to the Expos starting in 1977. Despite the popularity of the exhibition games, Manfred said MLB is not looking in the short-term to increasing the league to 32 teams, despite strong interest in Montreal.

The talk of a team in Mexico comes as Manfred recently said in an interview with AdWeek that he believes that marketing to Latinos can help grow the sport in the U.S. and abroad. In 2013, almost a quarter of all MLB players were from Latin America – with over 27 percent having a "Hispanic background" - and some of the sport's most fervent supporters are from countries like the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Mexico and Venezuela.

To capitalize on the growing Latino market, Manfred and the MLB hired the Texas-based advertising firm LatinWorks to run the league's Hispanic-focused marketing effort.

"It's an important outreach effort for us in terms of growth of the game," Manfred told AdWeek. "We see both Mexico and the Caribbean as principle points of focus in terms of the internationalization of the game."

He added: "Obviously, Mexico and other countries in the Caribbean have baseball ingrained as part of their culture, and you feel that those are opportunities that are really right for us."

MLB's Latino outreach comes as the perception that baseball is a niche sport continues to grow and there are worries that the sport has faded from national prominence, but Manfred argued that the local level interest is keeping the sport strong throughout the U.S.

"I think the biggest challenge for us over the season is to take our massive local interest and transfer as much of [it] as you possibly can into our postseason," he said.

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