Next September, France plays baseball in Jupiter, Florida
- e-Toile: Jean-Christophe Tiné, you are the Secretary General of the French Federation of Baseball and Softball. While it is a popular sport on this side of the Atlantic, baseball remains a less popular sport in France.
Can you give us a brief overview of baseball’s role in France?
Jean-Christophe Tiné: Strictly speaking, people have been playing baseball in France almost since its birth in the late nineteenth century, due in part to the presence of an important American community existing in Paris.
Founded in 1924 after the Olympic Games in Paris, our Federation is one of the oldest sports federations.
However, this sport has always experienced difficulty in growing here: it’s never been able to secure a place for itself in the French sports world and, similar to other less popular sports in France, it suffers from a lack of resources, media exposure and a national presence.
In France 2012, there are around 10,000 players divided amongst 200 clubs.
It should be noted that the majority of our professionals are very young considering that nearly 50% of them are under 21.
Despite our relatively small numbers, our young teams feature regularly in European competitions and many players enroll in American colleges such as Alexandre Roy and Andy Paz, recently recruited by the Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics, two professional teams in the MLB (Major League Baseball).
This further confirms the potential of French baseball and the quality of its training facilities.
However, our clubs are not far behind: Rouen, the club of the decade, rose a few years ago during the European Cup finals, competing against teams with pro or semi-pro players.
- e-Toile: Your goal is to qualify for the World Baseball Classic in March 2013 and, from there, participate in the qualifying events which, as it concerns the French team, will be held in Jupiter (Florida). Could you give us further details regarding this competition?
First of all, the World Baseball Classic is the most important international baseball tournament that there is, involving the best players in the world representing their national teams.
Its popularity is growing rapidly and it can be compared to what the World Cup is for soccer.
Japan, which won the inaugural tournament in 2006 and 2009, is the double champion.
After the first two competitions, it was decided to make some changes to the competition’s format.
Thus, the competition will now take place every four years, it has spread to 28 nations, and it now introduces a new qualification stage for the 2013 tournament.
France, which has been invited to participate for the first time, is pooled with the group playing in Jupiter, something we consider fortunate considering the presence of the dynamic French community in Florida.
"Les Bleus" (the French team) will compete against South Africa, Spain and Israel. Only the winning team will have the opportunity to enter into the main competition which will take place in March 2013. The WBC Inc., which manages the competition, has not yet announced the exact dates of the tournament but will be expected to do so in September 2012.
- e-Toile: Within the scope of this competition, you are looking for partners wishing to associate their names with the sporting institution that baseball represents in the United States. Why exactly?
Jean-Christophe Tiné: In effect, the French Federation of Baseball and Softball is searching for a sponsor and wishes to primarily associate itself, within the scope of the competition, with a French company having a presence in the American market sharing the values advanced by baseball and that, at the same time, desires to benefit from the opportunity for media exposure that this event provides.
At this point, we know that the competition will be broadcast on television and over the internet throughout the world, increasing brand visibility for our sponsors.
To give you a little background information, during the last tournament, the games were televised in 167 countries.
- e-Toile: If the main goal is to participate (especially considering it is an Olympic year), what do you think the chances are, realistically speaking, of seeing this sport evolve in France and more generally, in the rest of Europe, according to you?
Jean-Christophe Tiné: Looking at Europe as a whole, baseball is played by more than 100,000 players.
That remains a small fraction considering there are over 500 million inhabitants in Europe, but that still makes the Old Continent a great market.
It is especially popular in the Netherlands and Italy, countries accustomed to major international events and countries where their best athletes evolve professionally in the United States and Japan.
We believe that the development of French baseball relies, in part, on the success of its elite players in the international arena. Just look at the effect that the performances of French basketball players Tony Parkerr or Joakim Noah have had!
Participation in the WBC 2013 or the first breakthrough of a French player in the MLB will provide us with the necessary media exposure needed to increase awareness of this extraordinary sport and will be an asset in developing its practice in France.
After all, if the Dutch have managed the feat of becoming world champions in 2011 IBAF, why wouldn’t we be capable of performing well?
Published May 9, 2012.