Thursday, April 05, 2007

Chasing the Wrong Audience - The Israeli Baseball League Draft

I got my monthly newsletter from the Israeli Baseball League this aftrernoon. They announced that they were going to simulcast their draft online, so viewers at home could watch their favorite teams stock their teams.

I think the idea is great. I was imagining sitting at work, updating the blog with the latest Modiin Miracle picks.

Then I read the email closer. The draft is taking place on a sunday night at 8 PM EST.

If you're having trouble doing the math at home, that's 3 AM Israel time.

Who, exactly, is the league trying to reach? Do they think that a Jeremy Schaap-hosted evening is going to sell tickets to Israelis, which are the key to success of the league? Because while tourists will come to the park to watch baseball, they are not going to sustain the league. That is going to come from Israelis buying into the game. Not 300 IBL fans sitting at Cordozo law school.

Write them an email if you are as disappointed as I am. Their email address is

From the IBL's newsletter...

Starting at 8:00 EST on Sunday evening, April 29, IBL fans can see for themselves how that sentence ends, along with the player-by-player selections of all six IBL teams, by watching the league’s first player draft unfold on the IBL web site!

The process for filling out the rosters will be very familiar to those who are NFL and NBA draft devotees. Overall player recruitment has been an exhaustive and scrupulous effort on the part of Dan Duquette and Martin Berger, the IBL’s senior baseball executives. All in all, five tryouts will have served as the primary source for this season’s teams – the first one held in August in Hinsdale, Massachusetts, followed by spirited player competitions in Israel, Miami, the Dominican Republic, and Los Angeles (scheduled for April 15). These tryouts were supplemented by a scouting and referral system that resulted in the IBL signing premier players from nine countries in total. Many have professional backgrounds and exceed the initial objectives as set forth by IBL personnel. Very quickly, the IBL has developed into a “go to” league on the international scene for star players looking to showcase their skills.

With the signing of this year’s players, the next step is to have the players allocated to each of the six teams. Mssrs. Duquette and Berger have compiled a sophisticated scouting and grading system, resulting in a player evaluation score based on a scale from 0 to 100. At the forthcoming draft, IBL representatives, each representing a specific IBL team, will be choosing the players in an alternating draft format, using these evaluation reports as the primary basis for their selections. It will be interesting to see which team will put a premium on starting pitching, which on power hitters (all the more important in the IBL due to its Home Run Derby method of breaking tie games), which on speed and defense, and which on “Moneyball” criteria.

The draft will take place in New York City at Cardozo Law School before 300 IBL fans. Famed ESPN sportscaster Jeremy Schaap will be the host of the draft, with IBL Director of Player Personnel Martin Berger by his side to assist in reviewing players’ experience, talents, and anecdotal information.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting observation. I'd be curious to know what sort of promotions they're doing in Israel, but it wouldn't be surprising to know this is not a priority of the IBL right now. The concept of fantasy drafting and team-filling is pretty much an American thing - from NCAA brackets to Rotisserie League baseball, Americans tend to be focused on statistics and team composition. Israelites don't have much appreciation for those things, I would guess, since they don't know anything about baseball or understand its nuances yet. I DO hope the IBL is making a big push towards explaining and promoting the game itself, and the players and names which don't mean anything to the Israelis yet will start to mean something if they understand the game and pick their favorite players to follow as the season progresses.

April 06, 2007 3:14 AM  
Blogger Air Time said...

Although I live in Israel, my community, job and news sources are all English speaking. I have know idea what kind of efforts are being made to reach hebrew speaking Israelis.

However, they do not have a Hebrew-language web site up yet, and I get the sense, especially from the response I received, that the league has not made it a priority just yet.

During the season, baseball is on ESPN and Fox Sports about 4 times a week, sometimes live and sometimes taped from the day before (Right now Oakland and LA Angels of Anaheim are playing on FOX). ESPN tries to explain the rules of the game between innings (we dont have commercials on ESPN here), but it is all done in English.

They have a 45-game schedule in three fields for six teams. Which means they need to sell tickets to 135 games over the summer. I don't think it is a coincidence that the league begins at the end of June, just as students and tourists are beginning to come to Israel. I would be very surprised if the league doesn't do some kind of advertising or marketing to tourists.

They are trying to reach Israel's through fantasy baseball, having tied one of their fantasy games to the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange.

We'll see how it goes. I am hoping the league is successful, because I like going to baseball games.

April 06, 2007 9:37 AM  
Blogger TRUTH81818 said...

Come on! Don't try to dampen my enthusiasm just to feel smart! This is a great thing to happen. Have a better way to bring baseball to Israel and have it be successful from the get go? It is GOOD to have this for tourists. ( and us Israelis who want basebal) The bigger the fan base, the more strong the leaugue is the better the players will be. The stronger the growth of baseball in Israel. Tourists bring dollars to the economy. This will help the growth of baseball to have United States AND ISRAELI fans.
See below. THIS is a correct article. Be glad!
See below article.

Sliding home
By Elli Wohlgelernter March 11, 2007

Elli Wohlgelernter is a reporter for IBA TV in Jerusalem. He saw his first Major League baseball game in 1962 in Yankee Stadium.

Israel Baseball League

It's a long season, and you gotta trust it. I've tried them all, I really have. And the only shul that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the shul of baseball.
- with apologies to Annie Savoy

"What do you miss most?"

That's the question immigrants to Israel get asked more than any other. Sometimes it elicits serious answers, sometimes personal ones. Of course everyone misses their family and friends left behind, that's a given. And sometimes what we miss most is a simple food we crave, or some product that is impossible to find in Israel, but which would make our daily lives easier.

Me, I always give the same answer.


Sure, I miss my family and friends, and pizza here is never going to be as good as it is in New York. And though I may not see my family and friends as much as I'd like, phone calls and emails keep us well connected.

But baseball is different. Baseball, for serious fans, takes on a relationship more akin to that of a husband and wife. Spouses communicate every day, even from a distance, even if only for a few minutes. The definition of that relationship - a relationship based on passion - demands no less.

So too in baseball. Baseball, like marriage, is nothing without intimacy. Sure, I can read what my favorite Yankees did over the last two weeks, how many games they won or lost, and see highlights on the Internet. But that is just passive knowledge and information, crucial though it is, and videos only highlight how far away I am. It never satisfies the emotional need, never quenches the thirst of passion. For that you need a constant, daily narrative that you can see, hear and smell.

Now we'll have it.

On June 24, the first-ever professional baseball game in Israel will be played at Kibbutz Gezer, between the Petah Tikva Pioneers and the Modi'in Miracle. The six-team league also includes the Bet Shemesh Blue Sox, Netanya Tigers, Ra'anana Express and Tel Aviv Lightning. Each club will play 45 regular-season games, a schedule comparable to that of the low minor leagues.

The games will be played at three sites: Tel Aviv and Netanya teams will play at Sportek in Tel Aviv. Ra'anana and Petah Tikvah will share a field at the Yarkon Sports Complex, while Kibbutz Gezer will host the Modi'in and Bet Shemesh teams.

Eighty players have already been signed, from eight countries including the Dominican Republic, Australia, Venezuela, and the United States. A trio of retired Jewish major leaguers will manage three of the teams - former pitcher Ken Holtzman, outfielder Art Shamsky and baseball's first designated hitter, Ron Blomberg. The league's first commissioner is Daniel Kurtzer, a former US ambassador to Israel, and Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig is on the board of advisors.

Even with that pedigree, the detractors are already lining up to scoff, confident in their criticism that declares the venture - the brainstorm of one Larry Baras, Boston businessman and visionary extraordinaire - this century's version of Fulton's Folly. How can it succeed, they laugh, in a country already saturated with soccer and basketball? Who's gonna care enough to come to a game, besides a few dozen Anglos? And how can a home run compete with the excitement of a goal or a basket for an Israeli?

For those who follow baseball, who understand baseball, such doubters are to be pitied. While it is easy to understand their lack of faith in a Baras, or a Dan Duquette - the man in charge of player development - it is difficult to fathom their lack of faith in the very game itself.

That baseball was never, heretofore, an integral part of the fabric of Israeli culture is hardly a reflection on the sport itself. Baseball will succeed here, first and foremost, because it's the greatest game in the world. But it will also succeed because Israelis, like Americans, are great sports fans, as passionate about athletics as they are about everything that has meaning in their lives. In due time, Israelis too will come to understand the game, the rich nuances and subtleties that make it so compelling to millions of Americans.

Yes, of course building baseball in Israel is a long-term project. Duquette understands that better than anyone. Having once been in charge of player development for the Montreal Expos, Duquette took on a similar challenge going up against Canada's national religion, hockey. And from the ground up, he built an infrastructure and a system that was able to discover, recruit, and further develop Canadian baseball players.

It took a while, but then it happened: On March 8, 2006, Team Canada beat the powerhouse Team USA, 8-6, in the World Baseball Classic. Canadian baseball was on the map. To say that Israelis are less athletically inclined, incapable of playing and eventually competing on that level, is an insult, and simply foolish. A dozen Israelis have already been signed to the league, a number that is sure to grow as the country is more exposed to the sport.

One other thing: Everyone understands that ballplayers on the major league level are supremely talented, and a joy to watch. True enough. But for those who think minor league baseball is not that good, not the real thing, know this: those players underneath the Major Leagues at the AAA, AA, and A level are no less talented then the big boys. There is, in fact, only one difference between those in Single-A and those in the Major Leagues: consistency.

I spent the summer of 1983 covering minor league baseball, the Utica Blue Sox, in the New York-Penn League. They weren't just a single-A team, they were an independent team, which meant that no other ballclub had wanted any of the players. Castoffs, you say? Let me tell you, they weren't just good, they were great. I saw guys make plays that today would be on SportsCenter every night. The raw talent was breathtaking.

And now that's coming here. Baseball in Israel. I will get to see professional players up close, watch them show off that incredible talent, and follow their stories for 10 weeks, right here in my backyard. I'll still follow the Yankees, of course, but now I can follow a local team as well - the Blue Sox again, this time in Bet Shemesh. And my immigration will have become complete.

April 07, 2007 9:29 PM  
Blogger Air Time said...

Truth -

I couldn't be more delighted that there is a new league starting here. But I don't think that American tourists will determine the success or failure of the league. Will it be helpful that a tour program with 100 kids goes to one or two games a summer? Sure, but the IBL is trying to fill 3,000 seats 145 times. That's 435,000 tickets they are trying to sell.

While the games are going to attract tourists, their locations (Baptist Village, Near Petach Tikveh, Kibutz Gezer near Shalavim/Modiin, and Sportek in Tel Aviv) will not bring out Joe Tourist sitting in his Jerusalem hotel room to see a ball game when he is bored on a Tuesday night in July. Attendance won't be spur of the moment, hop down to the box office and buy tickets.

Yes, there are a lot of Americans in Israel who crave baseball. But I think that to be successful, the league is going to have to reach out to hebrew-speaking Israelis. I don't see how a Jeremy Schaap-led draft in Manhattan at 3 AM Israel time will bring out Israelis.

The league's answer as to why it is being held in New York makes sense. I just think it is not the best marketing move.

April 08, 2007 4:06 AM  
Blogger Air Time said...

As for having US and Israeli fans, lets not kid ourselves about this league. It is intended to be a very minor league.

While Americans tourists will come to a game when they visit, for the novelty of watching a game in Israel, and may even buy a t-shirt, hat and falafel, I don't believe they will be fans. They won't know the players names, stats and records of the teams.

April 08, 2007 4:09 AM  
Blogger TRUTH81818 said...

You want Israel to be a land of war and hard times forever? Be happy and supportive about good things! If you have a good or better idea on enhancing quality of life-- as they say-- do something! Otherwise don't tear good things down! A lot of people are busting their gut to make this happen, training hard to play well this first season... so YOU can have a good time! Whether it is A or AAA level, it is going to be between inning entertainment, good food and a the crack of the ball with a nice breeze. Thrown in will be some VERY talented players. As for fans being intersted in specific players, wait til Israel gets to be in the WBC! Or, when the first IBL Players make it in the MLB. Or before then when the first underdog pitcher throws 100 mph balls. Then we will see how specific overseas fans are when it comes to individual IBL players!!!!!!!!!! It all needs to start somewhere and it will get better every year . Don't concentrate on what it isn't.. when people first came to Israel should they have given up because there was desert and swamps? When they built the first computer and it was room size, should they have given up and criticized because it took up too much space? Best wishes to you, and be more positive about baseball and I bet.. about life. This is something uniquely HAPPY FOR JEWS worldwide.

April 08, 2007 1:13 PM  
Blogger TRUTH81818 said...

PS You think the Japanese League started with a Matsuzaka and has since coasted? I am sure it started with considerably less than what the opening season of the IBL will bring. We shouild support it and grow it from where it starts.

April 09, 2007 7:15 AM  

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