Agents in Japanese Baseball

» 20 June 2009 » In international baseball, npb, sports business »

With the draft over in the United States, the next focus will be on teams negotiating with agents to reach agreements for the players starting their professional careers. Agents occassionally get the national spotlight for some negotiations and have become a big part of sports business and the baseball world, which has led to a paradigm shift in professional sports.

On the other hand, in NPB, player agents are still a fairly a new idea and agents are known as Dairinin (representative). One agent that comes to mind, having received national attention is Don Nomura (the son of  Sachiyo Nomura, and step-son Rakuten Golden Eagles manager Katsuya Nomura). He was involved in negotiating a minor-league deal for Mac Suzuki and was a big part of Hideo Nomo crossing the Pacific.

Although agents are starting to be recognized, NPB still has a closed culture toward accepting the role of the agents. An agent needs to be a licensed lawyer or certified as an agent by MLB, or pass the exam that the Players Association provides. They also need to register with NPB in order to take part in a player’s contract negotiation. In order to register as an agent, the candidate must read the rules and apply downloading the materials from this page.

The biggest difference in the role of agents between MLB and NPB is that an agent can only represent a single player. This restriction reduces the appeal to become a player  agent as not many people will be able to live off of the five percent commission from one player.

Surveys have been taken by the Players Association in the past to look at what the players actually think about agents and if they would like to utilize an agent in the future (The Results from 2000). Players were still hesitant to embrace the idea of using agents, as only 2.2 % (14/633) of the players answering the surveys stated they would definitely like to use one.

However in recent years with agents being well-known for representing players negotiating for major league deals, the idea of agents is gaining ground with the players. A new development we’ve seen is established lawyers adding player representation to their resumes. “Lawyer Kitamura Joining the Baseball World” is one famous recent example.

Unless the rules change to allow agents to be a bigger part of the sport, it is hard to imagine an icon like Scott Boras appearing in the NPB world. However, as agents are becoming more trusted from the players, the opportunities for sports agencies should grow. Notably, Hisashi Iwakuma signed a deal with IMG in December, 2007.

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  1. Ryo
    20/06/2009 at 11:15 am Permalink

    I would say the biggest obstacle is the lack of data/stats collecting companies in Japan that angents can independently employ. Kitamura can do all the “lawyer talk” he wants, but in this stats-oriented sport, it doesn’t amount to much. It’s famous that Boras (and others) comes to a negatiation with a truck-load of data.

    Japan desperately needs this kind of companies that deal with “numbers.” Let me go off on a tangent here. Have you noticed there are no respectable opinion polling companies in Japan like Gallup or Zogby? The mainstream media conduct their own polls and show them on their own TV. Viewership ratings are big deal in Japan too, but those ratings are now controlled by only one compnay called Video Research whose track reacord can be said to be shoddy at best. (It is founded on the money that the mianstream media contributed.)

    Anyway, the point is, this indifference to “numbers” is a trait that runs through many Japanese industries. It isn’t about trust or closed culture. Players and a handful of angets simply lack means to an end.

  2. Ryo
    20/06/2009 at 7:02 pm Permalink

    I think that’s a great point and I appreciate the insight. However I think it’s difficult to entirely count out the difference in cultures as Japan does have their differences compared to the States.