Last year, the launch of a brand-new, free streaming network in the UK was announced by BaseballSoftballUK.

In doing so, the organization hoped to widen the reach of their two sports and, in turn, ensure the growth of what their public relations officer & sports broadcaster Chris Knoblock accepts is currently a minor sport in the UK.

Following a successful pilot programme, signs are promising for the organization heading into what is already shaping up to be a busy 2024.

And with steady progress being made across the UK, and Olympic involvement on the horizon, it is hoped that BSUK-TV, powered by Stack Streaming, can be a key part of the wider growth strategy for the two sports on UK shores.

The current picture

Photo credit: Phil Rocker

Having embraced the Stack Sports ecosystem and chosen Stack Streaming as their broadcasting software of choice back in the summer of 2023, a pilot programme was established to further understand the state of baseball and softball in the UK.

A total of 17 broadcasts were shown on BSUK-TV, attracting 15,000+ viewers from over 45 countries. Furthermore, over 5,000 people tuned in to watch the first-ever game featuring a professional softball team in the UK – the inaugural two-game Royal Spark Challenge series between the Great Britain Senior Women’s National Fastpitch Team and the Oklahoma City Spark.

Many other milestone events were broadcast in 2023. The inaugural British Baseball Federation (BBF) Summer Cup and both the British Softball Federation (BSF)and BBF’s top-tier National Championship finals were shown, as were the Milton Keynes Softball League final and Codebreaker’s Cup, along with Baseball Scotland’s Caledonian Classic Championship.

Following a successful pilot, the BSUK-TV platform is already in a position to accommodate up to 400 games this year. And although capacity is still yet to be filled, Knoblock is confident that clubs at all levels will buy into what is currently being done.

“Early on, you have to teach people ‘how to fish’ – how can we, as the British baseball and softball community, can create our own broadcasts and expose more of the sport to the wider world,” he said.

“It’s a key thing for any minor sport – how do we get that visibility? We needed to make things as easy and non-technical as possible so we can enjoy the widest possible distribution.

“We were able to demystify the streaming process to a level where teams could worry about playing the games themselves – a real key for many smaller organizations which have few people available during games outside of players and coaches.

“We wanted things to be as low-impact as possible on a game day. Eventually, there may be higher-impact versions of the platform, but as a starting point, we want to get people onto the network and see what the opportunities are.

“It’s been a challenge getting in front of the right people and having them take that leap of faith. It’s a long process, but a big step for us was getting all of Bournemouth Bears’ games on the platform as they’re part of the National Baseball League (NBL), the top baseball league in the country.

“They gave up their previous streaming service to join us, and to me, that’s a sign that there’s buy-in with what we’re trying to do. The mission now is to get more games flowing through the system and helping more people to see what BSUK-TV could do for them.”

‘It’s all about visibility’

Photo credit: Jody Davies Photography

As the man spearheading the inception of BSUK-TV, Chris Knoblock’s own love for baseball started through listening to Boston Red Sox games on the radio while growing up in Boston.

The immersive nature of broadcasting appealed to Knoblock and has led to a career in sport spanning over 15 years. During that time, he has continued to embrace the potential of broadcasting and honed his craft – to such a point that he was recently announced as one of the broadcasters for the WBSC Softball World Cup final this summer.

Knoblock understands the connectivity between broadcasting and the sports of baseball and softball, and believes the willingness of clubs to embrace new technologies will play a major role in the long-term development of the sport.

“Broadcasting and baseball are inseparable. They’ve long been connected, and that’s how a lot of people get their first exposure to the game,” he admitted.

“To give that tool to teams at an amateur/grassroots level is something that a lot of other sports don’t have at their disposal.

“Increased visibility isn’t just about broadcasting either – it’s about seeing the home grounds that are around, and the level of talent too.

“BSUK-TV is compatible with our scouting software, so we can now scout around the country in a way that we’ve never been able to do before. What we’re trying to do is essentially shine a light across the whole of our community to understand where baseball and softball are in this country and where we need to go from here.”

Growing the sport

Photo credit: Jody Davies Photography

At present, there are around 20,000 baseball and softball players in the UK.

While this figure is dwarfed by many other baseball-loving nations, it is a starting point from which BaseballSoftballUK hope to build.

Growth isn’t just being limited to localized baseball and softball either. It was announced last year that both sports will feature at the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles, making it more important than ever for the national and domestic game to work in tandem.

By making as much club-level baseball and softball as freely accessible as possible, BSUK are hopeful of being able to broadcast every National Baseball League and National Softball League fixture in the next five years – Knoblock is keen to see participation figures rise as popularity grows, further elevating the two largely minor sports into the mainstream spotlight.

He said: “We are primarily concerned with the UK audience. The international audience is helpful, particularly in Europe, but that audience will help us to monetize the network when the time comes.

“Our main objective is to get more people playing baseball and softball in this country, and everything being implemented will help us take those next steps.”

What the future holds

Photo credit: Jody Davies Photography

With the future development of baseball and softball comes a need to use Stack Streaming’s broadcasting capabilities to diversify their revenue streams.

Stack Streaming gives broadcasters of all sizes the ability to optimize their earning potential while streaming events through ads, pay-per-view models and much more – including offering integration with third-party ad networks.

This will be of major importance for BSUK, who hope to use some of their incoming revenue to set up a broadcasting fund. This will enable clubs to apply for equipment (cameras, internet connection and computers) which will raise their level of broadcasting.

As Knoblock himself says, it is hoped that the “rising tide will lift all ships”, allowing a higher standard of streaming on a more regular basis as UK baseball and softball broadcasts become the norm.

A second nod to the future will be the establishment of a broadcasting school. This will enable US-born Knoblock to teach more people how to call baseball and inspire future British broadcasters, so the “voice of British baseball and softball” can be from UK shores.

“We’re no longer just a grassroots sport,” Knoblock reflected.

“While much of the sport and what you see on BSUK-TV is grassroots focused, we are also on an Olympic pathway for baseball and softball ahead of the 2028 Games.

“In order to balance that, we need to balance the income that comes in and the development of the sport, but also how we can show it off to the rest of the world.

“Everyone is always attached to their phone and plugged in all the time, so if we don’t have that exposure where an online audience already is, we’re never going to get people to look up from their phone and see the game in front of them.”

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