Number of adult baseball teams reaches 20-year high

Fri 15 Aug 2014

BaseballSoftballUK (BSUK), the development agency for baseball and softball in the United Kingdom, has announced figures showing a 22-year high in the number of active adult baseball teams. 

In 2012, Project Cobb founder Joe Gray published an analysis showing the number of active baseball teams since 1991, and presented it to the Annual General Meeting of the British Baseball Federation.  Following this year’s playing season, BSUK has published an updated version of Joe's report, showing that the number of active baseball teams is at its highest since 1992.  A graph illustrating the way team numbers have changed over the past 23 years is below.

BBF President Earl Dix said: “Joe Gray’s Project Cobb is a wonderful piece of work and we’re extremely grateful to him for bringing to life the rich history of British baseball.  This announcement about the increasing number of active teams is a reflection of a number of years of hard work developing baseball in the UK and, on behalf of the BBF, I’d like to thank all of those involved in running and developing the sport, and in particular BSUK for the part they’ve played in helping new teams and clubs to form.”

Decline and recovery

According to Joe Gray's analysis, the number of baseball teams reached a post-World War II high in the late 1980s and early 1990s, culminating in the Scottish Amicable National League that ran from 1987-89. 

After that, numbers declined steeply for a variety of reasons. At the turn of the 1990s, British baseball was going through some dramatic changes.  There had been a significant financial scandal and the falling apart of the Scottish Amicable sponsorship deal, which may well have caused some teams to lose interest and numbers to dwindle.

Numbers only began to climb again shortly after the founding of BaseballSoftballUK, which has brought resources and professional development expertise to bear on the sport, in partnership with the British Baseball Federation. It's also likely that the relative stability of recent years has provided a sound foundation for teams to form and continue to exist.

BSUK's Joint CEO and Head of Development, John Boyd, said: “In most years, it's not easy to point to a single reason for growth or demise in numbers. Teams tend to fold when they lose a key volunteer behind the organisation of team - many things can cause this to happen, but there's certainly a connection to wider trends within the sport as a whole. In turbulent times, there may be a perceived and real additional strain placed on these key people and this may be attributable to why some teams have folded.

"Similarly, new teams form in two ways - either as a part of a growing club, or when a keen person decides to form a new club. In recent years, we've seen more and more clubs thrive, which is almost always down to the passionate leadership of a key person, inspiring and coordinating contributions from a wider pool of volunteers.  We've also seen more new clubs form. This may, in part, be down to the extra hands-on support now on offer to them from the Federation, other clubs and BSUK's development staff."

One stark new addition in recent years is the growth of university baseball, for the first time prioritised for development by BSUK in 2009. There are currently eight baseball teams playing in this competition, culminating in the National University Baseball Championships.

While these numbers do not give sight of youth play, they do provide an interesting view on the growth of the sport as a whole. 

Joe Gray from Project Cobb said: "Ever since World War II dislodged the foothold that baseball had gained during the 1930s (principally through the generous backing of British Baseball Hall of Famer Sir John Moores), there has been a recurrence of stories in the publications of the day claiming, or at least hoping for, a resurgence of baseball in this country.  But, for a variety of reasons, the sport has never returned close to its pre-1940 popularity. 

“In the current era,” Joe continued, “the first in which the sport has been underpinned by a professional development agency with public funding, there is a renewed theme of growth.  The data certainly suggest that this growth is directional rather than random, and while I doubt that the sport will ever return to a level of participation and enthusiasm that once brought 11,000 fans to a national final, there is good reason for optimism that baseball may well be on its way to a higher platform than it has known in this country for decades."

You can find out more about the history of baseball in Britain at the Project Cobb website.

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