Israelis love American sports but they need to be reached out to, not avoided.
By JEREMY LAST
On the way home from watching the first game of the Israel Baseball League on TV on Sunday night I popped into a grocery store in Talpiot, Jerusalem.
"Did you see the baseball?" I asked the two very Israeli looking guys sitting behind the counter with their eyes glued to some soccer game or other on the television.
"Baseball?" they replied with blank looks on their faces "There's no baseball here."
Clearly they, and the majority of Israelis in this country, would have no idea what I was talking about if I began discussing the so-called historic first IBL game between Modi'in and Petah Tikva.
Flicking through the sports pages of the main Israeli newspapers on Monday morning there was scant mention of Sunday's game, which one of the many Americans interviewed on television before and during the game had branded one of the biggest sporting events in Israel this year.
Perhaps he hadn't caught Maccabi Tel Aviv's dramatic comeback against Hapoel Jerusalem in the BSL final, or Betar Jerusalem's championship winning games a few months back.
Another had claimed that basketball had few fans in Israel before Tal Brody came to Maccabi Tel Aviv in the 1970s. Perhaps he didn't know about the 14,000 people who packed Bloomfield Stadium to watch Hapoel Tel Aviv win the championship in 1969.
"The IBL Opening Day was a dream come true to die-hard baseball fans in Israel and was proof that baseball has truly become a global sport," the league's Web site proclaimed.
Although the intentions are definitely good, and a great spectacle was created, as much as the IBL management and staff constantly talk about bringing baseball to Israel, they seem to have forgotten one essential component - the Israelis themselves.
The league's public relations representative spoke on Monday of how the game was being targeted at local Americans and "maybe in years two and three" more Israelis will be attracted.
But, while it is one thing to launch an American sport in a foreign country, it is another thing to try and recreate exactly the same atmosphere and feeling abroad and practically ignore the locals. From what I saw, this was not an attempt to Israelisize the sport of baseball but to bring New York to Petah Tikva.
Basketball is a success here because it has its Israeli nuances. Baseball should be treated the same and made more relevant to the Israeli audiance.
Israelis are not Americans. So why do all the teams have English names - the Pioneers, Tigers and Express sound a little ridiculous in Hebrew. And even if a large percentage of the fans at Yarkon on Sunday were of US background and the majority of the players are not Israeli, why were most of the announcement made in English?
While the IBL's English Web site looks slick and well-managed, the Hebrew version is full of errors.
Clicking on any number of the sections on the left hand side of the Hebrew site will leave you with a message saying "There was an error fetching the requested document. Please contact the server administrator." I didn't.
Of course, this is only the start and there were many positives to take from the first game. But if the IBL really intended on attracting Israelis then it should have gone all out right from the word go.
Israelis love American sports but they need to be reached out to, not avoided. There are eight weeks of games left and the IBL would do well to try harder to get the local population interested.
Israelis, it appears, are not important customers for the IBL, but without them the league will be nothing but a strange anomaly on the Israeli sports landscape.
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