After a four-year wait, the second London Series games are in the books. Here’s our review of MLB London 2023…
Changes were considerable between the 2019 MLB London Series and their 2023 offering. Beyond swapping the Yankees and Red Sox for the Cubs and Cardinals, MLB also took over Trafalgar Square, tweaked the stadium layout and hiked the ticket prices even further.
The weather was belting, just as it was four years prior. The games were less historic, with a Cubs blowout on Saturday followed by an entertaining Cardinals win on Sunday. Major League teams were strongly represented on the concourse and in the stands, with a friendly, party atmosphere powered on by some good-natured rivalry between Chicago and St. Louis fans.
2023 MLB London Series attendance
MLB reported attendance figures around 55,000 on both days. It felt like a bigger crowd on the Saturday, with some hefty chunks of empty seats on Sunday. Of course, many are out queueing for food or escaping the sun, but the more expensive seats in the upper tier behind home plate looked quite sparse on Sunday afternoon.
There were patchy areas on Saturday, too, with some tickets appearing on second-hand marketplaces at knockdown prices in the days before the games.
It’s no secret that this is a very expensive event. Adult prices started at £54 for seats a long, long way from the action. Decent seats came in at least £100 per adult. Yes, a rare event in London is always going to be costly, but it’s reasonable to wonder if fans (and more importantly, potential new fans) are being priced out.
The sky-high pricing continues once you’ve got beyond the bag scanners and ticket checks, though. Boomstick hot dogs and London Series-specific options (the glazed doughnut burger was fantastic) are going to be pricey, which fans can live with. ‘Normal’ items are extortionate, however, including £4.30 for a warm bottle of Sprite in 31-degree heat, and £10 for a standard chicken wrap.
Bottled water, like other soft and alcoholic drinks, is nearing £5. A Mr Whippy is roughly the same.
Fans are prepared for concessions to cost more at ticketed events. It would still be misleading to review the 2023 MLB London Series and gloss over the overall cost from purchasing face-value tickets through to getting a quick drink between innings in scorching heat.
Whether you think it’s good value or not, the range of food and drink options was brilliant (perhaps even better than 2019). The Boomstick hot dogs and Nachos returned, and were massively popular. London Series menus contained themed burgers and hot dogs for the Cubs and Cardinals, and the doughnut burger was a standout if you could live with being a covered in sauce/icing.
If you wanted a break from the burgers and hot dogs, other options were dotted around the stadium, including fish and chips, Greek food and ice creams. Beer, doughnut, popcorn and sweet vendors could be found walking around the stands and concourse. Again, prices were an issue — it was £9 for a small bag of pick and mix.
‘Cocktail’ stands were a good place to get a drink packed with ice. The £10 for a mojito or strawberry daquiri felt less outrageous than some of the costs elsewhere. Heineken and Amstel were the lagers of choice — prices were closer to what you’d expect.
Aside from a few idiots behind us on Saturday, who turned up hammered in the third inning to shout abuse and spill drinks all evening, the atmosphere was brilliant. Music throughout the day, including from the house band, kept the energy levels high. Player facts on the big screen were a nice touch.
The vast majority of the crowd were very engaged in the game, with Marcus Stroman and Albert Pujols receiving the loudest cheers in the pre-game introductions. Nathan Lyon was inevitably booed when walking out alongside Jimmy Anderson for Saturday’s first pitch.
Comparisons to the Millwall and West Ham rivalry by the in-stadium host thankfully couldn’t be further from the reality. Devoid of aggression, it was generally an atmosphere enjoyable for hardcore fans and families alike. MLB checked almost all the boxes with replicating the ballpark feel.
Future of MLB London
The Mets and Phillies are confirmed for 2024, with the potential for a series in 2026. The 2023 MLB London games had great attendances on paper, but it will be fascinating to see how MLB evaluates their second regular-season trip to the UK.
Would you attend at these prices if you’re not already interested in baseball? How many of the crowd are new to the sport? What percentage were travelling groups from St Louis or Chicago?
Part of the reason the 2023 London Series worked so well was how authentic it felt. Aside from some of the entertainment between innings, it wasn’t gimmicky. That authenticity was certainly enhanced by what felt like a very American crowd. Of course, that is not an issue in itself, but it does pose a question about what MLB is really looking to achieve.
If it really is about ‘growing the game’ to new audiences, I think lower prices are a must. And, as @BravesInTheUK noted on Twitter, handing out free (or at least heavily discounted) subscriptions to MLB.TV would surely be an impactful policy to convert people who enjoyed a weekend at the London Stadium into year-round baseball fans.
Great, but very expensive, weekend
Overall, MLB put on a brilliant weekend for baseball fans. It was festival-esque.
Pricing and queues remain an issue. Sure, these are problems at lots of big events, but popping out for a bit of food during the game shouldn’t mean you miss several innings. If that’s going to be the case, the outside screens need to work and there should be more of them.
Trafalgar Square was a good idea. Having one entrance and fencing all the way up was a bit odd, however, and it’s unclear how many non-baseball fans would have just wandered in or taken a few swings. It looked a bit too much like a ticketed-event, and it wasn’t clear that anyone could walk in for a cheesesteak.
Fortunately, we will not have to wait four years for MLB to return to the UK with the Mets and Phillies playing in early June of 2024. Changes are bound to be made again. Prices are unlikely to come down.
The London Series is excellent for fanatical MLB followers, even if their teams aren’t playing. How it is doing at attracting new fans is unclear, and that might be what really decides if there is a long-term future of MLB games being played in London.