Could Lao Baseball take Laos to the World Stage?

Could Lao Baseball take Laos to the World Stage?
The Laos team competes in a tournament overseas.

Laos saw its first baseball team formed in 2013 when just ten people began with practice sessions at a car park in the capital city of Vientiane. Now, the sport is rapidly developing, with Laos already recognized as the rising star of Asian baseball.

Despite its short history, Lao baseball has made remarkable progress. More than 100 Lao people now enjoy the previously non-existent sport.

The country dispatched a national team to the 2018 Asian Games, the first time that the country participated in an international match and has successfully hosted its first domestic league.

All sounds positive and promising, but what does this actually mean to Laos? What benefit could the growth of the baseball industry bring to the country?

Global baseball leagues

Baseball leagues are one of the most profitable sports leagues in the world.

In 2018, the Major Baseball League (MLB) in the United States ranked as the second most profitable sports leagues in the world at USD 10.7 billion.

Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league ranked 12th with USD 1.2 billion of revenue, while South Korea’s Korea Professional Baseball came in the 25th place with USD 563 million.

In particular, MLB’s growth is remarkable. The league surpassed the USD 10 billion revenue mark in 2017 after seeing steep growth.

MLB’s industry revenues that account for expenses and other investments came in at USD 9.7 billion for 2019, up from USD 9.4 billion in the previous year. MLB player payrolls and benefits for the year came in at USD 4.7 billion.

Baseball is one of the official sports for the Olympics, and one of the most popular global competitions; World Baseball Classic (WBC) now welcomes participants from 15 countries across the world.

Baseball in Laos
Baseball in Laos

An example from the Dominican Republic

As figures above show, the U.S. is still the center of the baseball universe, but interestingly, about a quarter of MLB players are from outside the U.S., with 102 players hailing from the Dominican Republic.

This means that more than 10 percent of players in the world’s most profitable baseball league come from the small Caribbean country with a population of only 10.7 million.

It’s estimated that Dominicans earn more than USD 400 million annually in the MLB, while players in minor leagues earn another USD 200 million. A lot of this money makes its way back to the home country.

Baseball has also contributed significantly to the Dominican Republic’s domestic economy, with the baseball industry estimated to generate about USD 1 billion each year.

This figure includes revenues from training and recruitment facilities in the country that draw in thousands of aspiring baseball players. As players from the Dominican Republic perform well in big leagues, including MLB, the country has also become a training ground for neighboring nations, including Venezuela, Panama, Mexico and Cuba.

Considering that the country has a GDP of USD 76 billion, it’s clear that baseball has a big impact.

In addition, baseball players contribute to society in many ways. Most of these MLB players take the lead in community service by participating in baseball leagues in the Dominican Republic and spending their post-retirement lives there.

Some become celebrities and entrepreneurs and in some cases even government officials, and serve as social role models.

How can Laos benefit?

Laos could follow in the Dominican Republic’s footsteps, especially operating as an incubator for competitive players, and eventually a training ground for neighboring nations in Southeast Asia.

Baseball is already active in many Southeast Asian nations, including the Philippines, Thailand, and Indonesia.

While some are more advanced than others, Southeast Asia is not ready to compete on the global stage, as the region has yet to send a team to compete in the WBC.

Although Laos is a late starter, Lao baseball has great potential, and with support from countries like South Korea, it could eventually overtake its peers and become the leading nation in Southeast Asian baseball.

Lee Man-soo, a former South Korean baseball player and the coach for professional baseball team SK Wyverns, said during his latest press interview that the Lao national baseball team shows a skill level on par with the third grade of elite middle school players in South Korea, adding that the team is growing and improving at a fast pace.

This is high praise indeed, as middle and high school baseball players in South Korea are often a popular target for MLB scouts. The South Korean national team that consists of 18-year-olds and below took second place in the latest U-18 Baseball World Cup held in 2017.

With a government-backed baseball federation newly formed to support the industry in Laos, and the country’s first baseball stadium about to open, it may not be long before scouts from MLB or other advanced baseball leagues visit Laos in search of outstanding players.