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Japanese baseball to contract....

Guest Moneyball

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Guest Moneyball

Well, it appears that a number of factors have combined that will force Japan's financially-troubled professional baseball leagues to significantly alter their structure and the way in which they'll do business.


With the Japanese economy mired in a nearly decade-long recession, marquee Japanese players jumping to Major League Baseball, and the Yomiuri Giants continuing to overshadow their fellow Japanese baseball teams amongst Japanese fans, it is a virtual certainty that at least two franchises will merge prior to the start of next season. Such a move could, in turn, threaten Japanese professional baseball's current two-league structure


Owners of Osaka's Kintetsu Buffaloes and the Kobe-based Orix Blue Wave have begun merger talks that would shrink the Pacific League from six to five teams by next season. With an odd number of clubs, the Pacific League would then face hard-to-resolve scheduling problems. Given that Japan's Pacific and Central Leagues have no interleague play, the Kintestsu/Orix consolidation is likely to necessitate at least one more merger, followed by the establishment of a single ten-team league. In fact, some Japanese officials are pushing for further contraction to just eight clubs.


According to proponents of the plan, among the advantages of establishing a single eight or ten-team league is that every franchise would get approximately 10 home games a season against the immensely popular, Tokyo-based Yomiuri Giants. Opposing clubs would generate greater revenues from selling out seats for those games, while also getting some much needed exposure on national television broadcasts. As it stands now, the Pacific League's six clubs aren't able to benefit from any regular season play against the Yomiuri powerhouse. Without the opportunity to play the Giants, Pacific League teams currently almost never make it on to prime time television. As a result, their players remain fairly anonymous and the clubs themselves pull in only a fraction of the TV revenue that the Giants enjoy.


Japan's baseball teams are subsidiaries of corporate conglomerates in the country. At one time, these massive corporations regarded the ball-clubs as advertising tools for the parent companies. Financial losses incurred by the teams were written off as marketing expenses. But with the recession taking its toll on Japan's economy, shareholders have recently become concerned about the rising cost of baseball. Companies like Kintetsu have decided to eliminate their club as part of a business restructuring.


So, contraction of a professional baseball league might have "struck out" here in the United States, but it appears to be "stepping to plate" on the Japanese sports scene.

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