New sports formats - Baseball joins growing list
22 November 2017
The World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) is one of the latest federations to introduce a new format for their sport. Taking inspiration from an informal version of baseball played in Cuba, WBSC introduced Baseball5 to the Friendship Games in Burundi earlier this year.
Baseball5 features five-inning games played by five on-field players on each side, as opposed to the traditional baseball game of nine players per side and nine innings. Players are limited to using only their bare hands to hit and field the balls.
WBSC has ambitions to build a billion-strong baseball / softball community by 2024 and creating a shorter, more accessible format of the game – given its smaller team numbers, shorter match length and the lack of bats or gloves needed to play – is seen as a key driver of growth.
The WBSC followed the introduction of Baseball5 at the Friendship Games with the launch of the WBSC Baseball5 Championships, taking place on 23 – 24 November 2017.
The development of new formats in existing sports is a well-established trend. It could be argued that Twenty20 cricket, originally developed by the English and Wales Cricket Board, is the blueprint given the success of the format since its inception in 2003.
Batting teams have a single innings each, restricted to a maximum of 20 overs, resulting in a shorter, fast-paced game that is attractive to spectators and TV viewers alike. Twenty20 has grown significantly worldwide, assisted by the popular professional Twenty20 leagues such as the Indian Premier League and the Big Bash League in Australia.
This year, the PGA European Tour introduced a new team event: GolfSixes. Akin to cricket, golf is a sport traditionally known to take a long time to watch and play. The inaugural event saw shot clocks introduced and matches played over as few as six holes compared to the traditional 18. The event was perceived a success and may become a permanent fixture in the European Tour calendar.
In January, Nitro Athletics made its first appearance, hosted in Australia. The team-based event incorporated a mixture of traditional and modified athletics events, including mixed-gender relays and an elimination mile, over the course of three nights.
Like its golf and cricket counterparts, intended benefits of Nitro Athletics include shorter sessions filled with more on-the-field (or track, in this case) action and better fan engagement. It is likely to return in the 2018 or 2019, with the ambition of creating a series across a number of countries and continents.
It is quickly apparent that there are some common themes among many of the new formats developed:
- A shorter game: a shorter version of its traditional match or competition
- Easier to host: shortening the duration of the event automatically reduces the resources required by hosts for professional events
- More accessible to play: barriers to participation are removed, such as the need for equipment in the case of Baseball5
- Better for fans: enhanced interaction and engagement with fans is a key feature
- Tool for development: the intention is that an easier to understand, more accessible and fan-friendly format will enable sports bodies to introduce their sport to a wider market
It is encouraging to see sports bodies innovate by trying out new and, sometimes risky, ideas with their events. Not all of the experiments will turn out to be a great success, but innovation is essential if each sport is to remain relevant and appealing.