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Professional Baseball
Predicting the "Weather" from wind direction or the shape of the clouds
- Changeover to Sports Business -

Munehiko Harada, Professor
Faculty of Sport Science Waseda University

Where will Japanese professional baseball be heading? "If there is sunset, tomorrow will be a fine day." "If frogs chorus, it will rain tomorrow." You can predict tomorrow's weather from natural phenomenon or animal behavior. So maybe we can predict the future of professional baseball from what's going on right now.

The Pacific League is now popular and strong because it introduced a community-based business model. It is believed that the popularity of professional baseball has been on the decline, but since its restructuring in 2004 the Pacific League's popularity has been significantly increasing. Although the popularity of the Pacific League has lagged far behind the Central League, the Pacific League has started using sports marketing to manage its baseball teams for local fans. For example, Nippon Ham relocated its headquarters in 2004 to enable it to manage its team in a community-based fashion; the average number of spectators increased from 20,083 in 2005 to 24,459 in 2007 and the total number of spectators increased from 1.37 million in 2005 to 1.83 million in 2006. Lotte also revamped its management by employing a number of external sports business specialists, resulting in a significant increase in spectators -from 1.33 million to 1.56 million total spectators and from 19,616 to 21,645 average number of spectators. The Seibu Lions also increased the number of spectators by 1.2 times this year alone.

Bringing a new perspective to baseball from the J. League

Community-based team management for professional baseball is modeled after the J. League management style. It is little known that Yoshikiyo Fujii, the president of Nippon Ham was the president of former Cerezo Osaka (Currently, in J2) and the colorful cheerleading style for Lotte has been based on the cheerleading for the Urawa Reds. For example, Nippon Ham was involved with many community programs to expand its fan base throughout Hokkaido; Lotte introduced a unique "cheerleading" style in which, for example, the 26th player is specially signified (TEAM 26). These tactics had never been employed in professional baseball.

This fan-oriented promotion program even affected the Yomiuri Giants; the Giants never had a problem selling tickets but the team has had to promote itself because of declining popularity. To regain its popularity "the College Baseball Business Awards 2008" were held and a prize was offered for tactics to increase the number of spectators as well as restore TV ratings. This writer was involved in the contest as the chairman of the judging committee; it was apparent that a baseball team that had never needed promotion or marketing wanted to solicit effective ideas to expand its fan base and wanted to reinvent its management style to become a more active and effective one.

Low TV ratings - Dilemma

There are some instances, however, in which a community-based approach does not work. And this has to do with low television ratings. The reason is simple; more community-based activities raise a favorite team in each community. That is, there is a dilemma in that it is more difficult to "raise" a nationwide popular team such as once much-loved Yomiuri Giants. This phenomenon can be understood as professional baseball becoming more like the J. League. This is not the true for the sustained popularity of the Central League but this approach is becoming "J. League-like" and is one of the few tactics that allows the Pacific League teams with their relatively weak fan bases to grow.

As a result, the Pacific League now has teams that have even strength and their popularity is also about the same. Actually, the league's winning teams were Daiei (Current Softbank) in 2003, Seibu in 2004, Lotte in 2005, Nippon Ham in 2006 and 2007, and Seibu in 2008; These four teams competed for the championship from 2003 to 2008. This year, Seibu and Orix, who had been competing for the last place last year, are competing for the championship. The Pacific League has more changes in the ranking than the Central League.

International competition - Difficult steering

Looking at international baseball, the International Baseball Federation (IBAF) held its World Cup just like soccer and rugby. This baseball World Cup, however, is basically done by amateur players, not major leaguers. For the WBC (World Baseball Classic), however, the major leaguers are expected to participate. In its first tournament in 2006, Japan won its first championship. The IBAF is an international federation (IF) similar to FIFA (soccer) and IRB (rugby) but is different in that it does not become involved with professional baseball organizations, which means the organizational power is weaker than either FIFA or IRB.

The baseball World Cup, therefore, is not so popular with Japanese or Americans, while the WBC (World Baseball Classic) is a commercially-oriented tournament which was implemented by the Major League Baseball organization to internationalize baseball. The WBC is held before the season starts (without interrupting the league). However, it may be tough on the players participating in WBC because, if the player is in the Major Leagues, he may be playing in up to 181 games in a regular season, Division Series, League Champion Series and World Series. The player may have to play every two days in those series, and if he is selected for the WBC tournament, he will have to play in more games.

In terms of baseball internationalization, several problems have emerged: Japanese players going to the US, lower competition motivation in Japanese leagues and sponsorship in US Major League instead of in Japan. Japanese league management must steer themselves tactfully by catching and riding on the "wave of globalization" and improving its competition edge in the domestic leagues. However, Japanese professional baseball does not have any long-term plan to solve its fundamental problems; all that is being done amounts to implementing temporary patches. The leagues must transform themselves from the corporate sports-financial model into the sports business model.

Munehiko Harada, Professor, Faculty of Sport Science, Waseda University

1. Profile

1954: Born in Osaka
1977: Graduated from Kyoto University of Education (Physical Education, Faculty of Education)
1979: Completed the Physical Education research program at University of Tsukuba
1984: Completed the doctorial program, Recreation Department, University of Pennsylvania
1987: Assistant, National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Kanoya
1988: Instructor, Osaka University of Health and Sport Sciences
1995: Fulbright senior researcher (Texas A&M University)
1995: Professor, Graduate School, Osaka University of Health and Sport Sciences
2005: Professor, Faculty of Sport Science, Waseda University

2. Social Involvement (Current)

Chairman, Asian Association for Sport Management
Chairman, Japanese Association for Sport Management
Director, Japan Society of Sports Industry
Director, Fitness Industry Association of Japan
Member, J. League Management Committee
Advisor, bj league Management Advisory Committee
Performance Review member, Japan Institute of Sports Sciences, National Agency for the Advancement of Sports and Health
Member, Special Committee for Advancement of Sports and Youth, Central Council for Education
Member, Special Proxy Committee for Advancement of Sports, Central Council for Education (From June, 2008)
Member, Investigation Committee for Modality of National Sports Arenas (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology) (From April 2008)
Member, Council for Sports-For-All (Osaka Prefecture)
Sports Advisor, Niigata Prefecture
Member, Advisory Board, Sports Nation Investigative Committee, Liberal Democratic Party (From April 2008)

3. Major publications

"Sports Marketing" (Sports Business Book), Taishukan Shoten
"Sports Management" (Sports Business Book), Taishukan Shoten
"Marketing for Public Services" (Translation) (Yuji Sozo)
"Sports Industry Theory - Fourth Edition", Kyorin Shoin
"Sports Leisure Service Principle", Kenpakusha
"Sports Business Administration", Taishukan Shoten
"Sports Event Business Theory", Heibonsha Shinsho
"Corporate Strategy - Learning from American Sports Business" (Translation), Taishukan Shoten
"Illustrative Sports Management" Taishukan Shoten