Two broadcasters put the CPBL and themselves in an American spotlight — now they’re making the most of it

Richard Wang started his baseball career more than two decades ago, during a nine-year stretch in Boston wherein he transitioned from studying to practicing architecture. When Wang wanted an escape from designing, he would construct columns about the Red Sox for a Taiwanese magazine. That experience came in handy years later, when he returned home as the deputy director of news and information for the Chinese Professional Baseball League. Wang was in charge of various media and promotional pursuits, including strategic planning.

Wang, who is Taiwanese, never prepared for anything like COVID-19 during his time with the CPBL, and he would prefer that the circumstances were different. But, if there is a space during a pandemic for feel-good sports stories, then his and the CPBL’s popularity boon qualifies as one. Together, they are validating the old quip about how opportunity resides in the middle of difficulty. 

With most baseball seasons (including Major League Baseball’s) on pause because of the spread of the novel coronavirus, the CPBL has served as the beacon in the dark. The league and its partners are taking advantage, too. Eleven Sports, the television home of the Rakuten Monkeys, launched Wang’s ascent by installing him as part of the outlet’s English broadcast streams. 

Originally, Eleven Sports managing director Simone Kang explained to CBS Sports, their plans had been to provide that service in Japanese. They pivoted when they realized the demand for live sports in English. Kang’s decision appears to have been a wise one. At least 60 percent of the international viewers are American — that despite games starting earlier than breakfast on the east coast.

Wang has been instrumental to the broadcast’s success. His insight into the league is unrivaled, and he recruited his partner, Wayne McNeil, after Kang approached him with the idea. Wang and McNeil have been a hit with their intended audience, to the extent that the Fubon Guardians have contracted them to front their own English broadcasts. The pair’s chemistry, one of the biggest perks of the broadcast, feels hard-earned. It isn’t. Although they first met in 2014, McNeil said they had been in contact only occasionally over the last few years.

“Richard and I have similar personalities in that I think we are both easy going and easy to get along with people,” said McNeil, who is originally from Canada. “That is why it may seem like we have been good friends for a long time when in all actuality we are just heading down that path now.”

The Eleven Sports broadcasts are as polished as any MLB equivalent, and feature all the bells (radar-gun readings) and whistles (fancypants replays) that Americans are accustomed to. Wang and McNeil are skilled and serious about the tour-guide aspect of their jobs as well, and are quick to reference MLB personnel if it can serve as a reference point. “We are trying to provide something that the audience out there can relate with,” Wang said. 

When Kang says that Eleven Sports is doing “whatever we can for the fans,” it sounds like typical executive prattle — and it may be, except the broadcasts do feel fan-friendly, as well as educational, fun, comforting; all pluses in normal times, and double-pluses during these uncertain days.

Predictably, the feedback that Wang, McNeil, and Eleven Sports have received suggests their efforts are being well-received. “In a world full of keyboard warriors and trolls, we have felt nothing but love from the world,” McNeil said. “This is my home and this is why this opportunity is so important to me. It is about a lot more than baseball. It is about introducing one of the most beautiful places in the world to people who know nothing about it.”

Just as Taiwan so often finds itself in China’s shadow, the CPBL is typically regarded as the third best league in Asia, behind Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball and the Korea Baseball Organization. The current story of the CPBL is, then, that of the classic underdog. Wang and crew seem to recognize that while this moment won’t last, it could endure in some ways.

“I believe that it is a great opportunity for CPBL to showcase the talent to the world of baseball. And it is also a great opportunity for Taiwan to display its solid pandemic prevention results through baseball as a platform,” Wang said. “I also believe that it is a great service that CPBL has been able to provide to the people out there, in the world, whose lives were affected by the pandemic as a form of entertainment, a reminder of things can be normal and we can still enjoy sports.

“I would like to see that us playing baseball here is a message of encouragement and motivation to all folks out there.”

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