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The first certain step of MLB onto Japanese baseball market.

How Mr.Selig, the commissioner of MLB go on their dream export of American national pastime beyond the Pacific Ocean.

Written by Yasumasa Ishikawa, TRA's Sports, Japan


In Japan, baseball game had been the national pastime for these 50 years.
“Had been?” “Yes, had been not now”.
Of course, at Tokyo Dome or Koshien Stadium near Osaka, Tokyo Giants or Hanshin Tigers still hold their games with full of fans nearly over 40,000 every day.
But, it’s unusual phenomenon excepting a few popular clubs. 2 of the third of Japanese clubs are at their last gasp to maintain their team or not.

There are 12 professional baseball clubs under 2 leagues, Central and Pacific in Japan. But their franchise system is a little different from MLB style.
Too many teams are competing fiercely in Tokyo metropolitan area and Osaka. In and near Tokyo, there were 6 teams until last 2003 season. One club, Nippon-ham Fighters escaped to Sapporo, Hokkaido from this season to manage to survive in their unknown market. Among 3 teams near Osaka, only the Tigers had built monopoly position gathering baseball fans, at any games impossible to purchase tickets. But in other stadiums there are only 3000 to 5000 audiences even at the weekend cards.

To tell the truth, Japanese professional leagues have been faced to decide to reconstruct their franchise system or their basic rule of the leagues from 20 yeas ago.
But, any representative or owners committee never touched reform plans, even if some of the teams became unable to afford anymore.
Fans those who love baseball games have given up waiting for regeneration of the Japanese leagues and they prefer to see Ichiro, Hideo Nomo or Godzilla Matsui of MLB through the satellite TV programs. Especially, after Hideki Matsui, the last hero of Tokyo Giants flew away to NY in 2003, they switched on the recorded channel of Yankees games instead of the Tokyo Giants live cards broadcasted in the every evening.

MLB got the confidence to make a good deal from the television broadcast right in Japan. MLB sold the television license in Japan over 6 years from 2004 to Dentsu, the gigantic Japanese advertising farm in total US$ 275 mil in Nov. 2003. The last 5 years contract was only US$ 65mil. After the Japanese super-star, Ichiro or Godzilla Matsui participated in MLB, the value of Television right jumped up to 3 times of the previous one.

The actual number of the games which Japanese fans eager to see is 200 or so in one season at maximum. They just want to see the games of Ichiro, W-Matsui, Nomo or special games of the All-Star or play-off series.

At the beginning of Feb, 3 of big TV-nets in Japan, NHK, the national broadcasting association and 2 private nets, Fuji-TV and TBS agreed with Dentsu reluctantly for the basic division plan of their broadcasting schedule. According to their rough plan, the total games which could be broadcast become 100 to 120 at maxim. It means one game right becomes around US$ 0.4 mil.

Is it a proper price for the programs around 6 or 8 o’clock in the early morning? The biggest fans of baseball, business men or students are in their cart for the company or school. TV-nets have to buy the license to shore up their evening News shows with Godzilla or Ichiro’s active play.

In Japan, TV right is belonged to the club not but JBL, Japan Professional Baseball Leagues Organization. “Giants vs. Tigers” the most expensive TV right among Japanese baseball cards is about US$ 1 to 1.5 mil. The selling price of unpopular cards is nominally announced around US$ 0.2 mil or so, but actually difficult to find their sponsors.

Japanese big sponsors will pay for the new programs of MLB even if they are broadcasted in the early morning. Dentsu will persuade big sponsors to pour their big money into fresh MLB programs. And the poor cards between unpopular teams will be now abandoned from Japanese TV-net at all.

Those teams have lost fans and will lose their lifeline income from TV at the beginning of the 2004 season.
Maybe at the end of 2004, some teams will show the white flag or be on the sell but no more investor grasp at such a poor business in future.

In the modern history, sometimes, Japanese couldn’t change their way of social or economy systems by themselves. The Japanese will be yield to external pressure in the field of their pastime too.

MLB surely show their steps onto the Japanese baseball market with these opening games between NY and Tampa Bay.
Is it co-understanding business between MLB and JPBL ? Or, is it promoted under the leadership of Bud Selig of MLB and the Japanese commissioner?
“No, it doesn’t look like.”
They will answer this historical game becomes a big opportunity to show the long reliability and co-respect between both countries baseball fans.
Is it the truth? Maybe some.

But any Japanese baseball fans will not listen to such an official comment. They recognize these opening games become the beginning of the ruins of the present Japanese leagues. They hope the real reform of Japanese baseball construction itself in near future, but know sadly there isn’t such a hope at all.

Is there Mr. Bud Selig in Japanese baseball world? No. No leaders, no reformer, no baseball business professionals.

In Japan, the wards of “for the baseball development” mean sometimes “the benefit for the Tokyo Giants”. Any tickets of Tokyo Giants had been platinum cards, all sold out. Tokyo Giants is a subsidiary of one of the biggest Japanese media, the Yomiuri Group. And their home games had been broadcasted only through their big TV net.

It’s sure and we may pay the respect for that the Yomiuri Group and their Tokyo Giants cultivated the soil and seeded baseball business in Japan from nearly 70 yeas ago when MLB all star teams of Babe Ruth or Lou Gehrig visited in Japan in 1934.

According to such historical background, Tokyo Giants have managed the baseball league as they like. The owners committee or Japanese commissioner couldn’t decide anything without the under-agreement with the owner of Giants.

Tsuneo Watanabe, the chairman of The Yomiuri and the owner of Tokyo Giants, the actual ruler and the shadow governor of Central League has insisted their Gigantic influence over the leagues frequently for these 10 yeas.

He sometimes commented “In order to protect Japanese baseball leagues against MLB’s extension over into Japan, Tokyo Giants will become the breakwater.” For example, when Hideo Nomo decided bravely to fly to LA against so many accuse from all the media, when Ichiro moved to Seattle and when Mr. Watanabe lost his super-star Hideki Matsui.

But, when Godzilla Matsui chose NY, Tokyo Giants signed co-operative contract with the Yankees. The biggest mouth those who had showed opposition and un-pleasure against the influence of MLB into Japan suddenly changed their strategy.

While Japanese sports media or Japanese fans are suspecting what happened with the Yomiuri, the project of welcoming Yankees opening games were promoted by the Yomiuri-group underneath. The watcher of breakwater himself opened the water gate for the big baseball business ‘tsunami’.

Inundation had begun. Drown club has already appeared.
On 01/02/2004, waiting for the 2004 new season, Osaka-Kintetsu, one of the oldest club, but with few fans announced they are looking for the investor to sell themselves. The owner of Kintetsu withdrew their retire plan 2 days later, getting the booing and criticism from their fan and the owners committee.

Maybe, at the end of 2004 or in near future, “2 leagues -12 clubs system” of JBL will be collapsed.
How will be Japanese baseball?
I don’t know? Anyone of baseball business doesn’t show their new blueprint.
But the fans will not be at a loss, they have been used to nothing to hope. If they lose their teams, they will find a new team from MLB.

“If no teams, Good-bye baseball. That’s all. I will follow the cue to the soccer stadium.”

MLBの日本での放映権収入の増加と、松井秀喜のヤンキース凱旋興行が、日本の球界再編を促すことになるはずだというのが、1月来、考えてきたぼくの予測だった。

こういう事態をMLB側がどのように認識しているのか、MLB関係者や米メディアの友人たちに、サマリー・レポートとして、ぶつけてみた。

2006/01/03 石川とら
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