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Baseball, New Zealand style

By Matt Adams, November 17, 2016


New Zealand Baseball HakaPlayers perform the Haka, which is a traditional war cry/dance that is done before a team's match.

Although the World Series is over, that doesn't mean baseball excitement has come to an end here at United. Last week we announced the start of a four-year partnership with Baseball New Zealand to serve as its official airline and the title sponsor of the organization's national tournaments and events.

As part of the agreement, we will provide air travel -- in cooperation with our partner Air New Zealand (NZ) for all of Baseball New Zealand's teams, coaches and business officials, and we will transport big leaguers from the U.S. down to New Zealand to help coach and develop young players.

Baseball and softball were first introduced to New Zealand by American soldiers during World War II, but for decades baseball lagged behind softball and cricket in popularity. It wasn't until the late 1980s that this began to change, and, in 1989, Baseball New Zealand was established as the governing body over the sport throughout the country.

Seven years ago, American expatriate Ryan Flynn took over as Baseball New Zealand's CEO, with big plans to promote the U.S.'s national pastime to a generation of young Kiwis.

“This is a very athletic nation, and people want to play baseball," Ryan said. “I truly believe that it can become 'the Dominican Republic of the Pacific' in terms of per capita baseball talent."

It would appear that his efforts are working; over the past few years, participation has grown by 700 percent. There are approximately 7,000 ballplayers in New Zealand, a nation with a population of around 4.5 million, and Ryan's goal is to see that number reach 100,000 in the next decade. Team New Zealand recently made some noise at the 2013 World Baseball Classic, advancing to the finals in its pool. When Ryan took over as CEO, New Zealand was ranked 119th in the world; today the country ranks 26th and has its sights set on the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

He points to the deal with United as a major turning point for the organization and as a good indication of the sport's growing influence in New Zealand. “We've had sponsorships in the past, but aligning ourselves with a big name like United puts us in an entirely different space."

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