Category > sports business

Agents in Japanese Baseball

» 20 June 2009 » In international baseball, npb, sports business » 2 Comments

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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Hanshin is Hiring

» 18 June 2009 » In international baseball, npb, sports business » Comments Off

NPB teams still have a closed culture regarding new hires and job openings usually do not go open to the public. Although some teams are changing their mentality and internship opportunities are becoming a popular way to be involved with academics, the idea has not yet been fully embraced throughout the league.

During the off-season if you browse on some of the team’s websites you might be lucky enough to come across a job opening that the team is trying to fill. That was why I was actually suprised to come across this opening with the Hanshin Tigers at this time during the season. Applications are due by June 30th for this ballpark operations opportunity and the qualifications listed are that you need to have at least graduated high school, must have a strong interest in sports business, and must have a sense of leadership and responsibility among other things.

I will be looking for a full-time opportunity in the off-season myself hoping to stay in the sports industry, but I will not be applying for this obviously, so I thought I’d share this opening with the readers here who might be looking for an opportunity with a NPB team like the Hanshin Tigers.

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The New Face of the Marines

» 09 June 2009 » In international baseball, npb, sports business » 2 Comments

19 Year-Old Yuuki Karakawa is inching toward the status of being the face of the Chiba Lotte Marines. His voice will be used as the announcement inside the Keisei Shuttle Busses that run from the train stations to the stadium on game days.

From the spring of 2006, the Keisei Busses used voices of Chiba Lotte Marines, Bobby Valentine, Shunsuke Watanabe, and Toshiaki Imae. The face of the franchise each have their turns and now the baton will be passed to the young pitcher Karakawa.

Front office personnel states: “Not only this year’s record, but looking back from last years stats is a big part. He is a home grown player and we hope he continues to succeed.”

Teams can sometimes be hesitate in giving young players the spotlight too early in their career, but the Chiba Lotte Mariners seem confident that Karakawa will not be pressured, and will continue to make him the center of their marketing strategy.

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Majoring in Baseball Science

» 27 May 2009 » In international baseball, npb, sports business » 4 Comments

Majoring in Baseball Science… I don’t know if it’s just me, but that sounds truly intriguing.

Shikoku Gakuin Daigaku is installing the major system, which is the most common college academic system in the United States. Starting from the 2010 academic year, the university is restructuring its academic system and installing the major system providing 19 majors and one minor of the students’ choice. This differs from the typical Japanese university system, where students choose a curriculum prior to entering the school, and in the event they want to change majors, have to basically re-apply to the school.

What is interesting about this new development is that the Shikoku Gakuin Daigaku is adding the major of Baseball Science, which is the first such program in any Japanese university. The main subjects the students will be able to study majoring in Baseball Science will be:

  • History of Japanese Baseball
  • Baseball Information Analysis
  • Baseball Methodology
  • Baseball Management
  • Health and Sports Nutrition
  • Introduction of Baseball Communication

The dream of the university is for one of their alumni to become a major league player and expand the business of baseball and develop more “Baseball People” who can contribute to the industry. The school hasn’t produced many NPB players. One of the few baseball alumni from Shikoku Gakuen Daigaku is former Hiroshima Toyo Carp Kouichi Amano, currently the manager of the Fukui Miracle Elephants in the Baseball Challenge League.

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Independent Leagues in Japan

» 26 May 2009 » In international baseball, sports business » 4 Comments

Note: There’s a newer version of this article available here.

Recently I had the opportunity to attend minor league games in Toledo and Columbus, Ohio and was amazed of the quality of the ballparks. Affiliated Minor League Baseball barely exists from a business standpoint in Japan, but a new wave of independent league baseball has been developing in Japan. Even though NPB is the mainstream for baseball in Japan, a number of independent teams have been born over the past five years and it will be interesting to see what kind of role these leagues will play in Japanese baseball and sports business.

Started as the Shikoku Island League with four teams from the Shikoku region and expanded to six teams from the 2008 season. 17 players from the league has been selected in the NPB draft. If a player is chosen from an NPB team, the player contributes their contract money and a portion of their first year salary to the previous team. Terumasa Matsuo was signed to a minor-league deal by the Boston Red Sox and played a season with the 1A Greenville Drive.

Chiba Lotte Marines manager Bobby Valentine once mentioned purchasing a team from the Island League and operate it as their minor league system.

Started with four teams as the Hokushinestu Baseball Challenge League and expanded to six teams for the 2008 season. Every team does not have a home stadium and travels around their home state to play in different stadiums, calling them all their “Home” stadiums. Four players have been selected in the NPB draft from this league and Kensuke Uchimura of the Rakuten Golden Eagles has been the first player to play in an NPB game.

Started this March by creating a buzz with the 17-year old female knuckleballer in Eri Yoshida who drew over 11,000 fans to the opening game. However recently the operating company Stella withdrew from the operation and the current four teams and an expected expansion team from 2010, Mie, agreed to operate the league with the strength of the five teams by building its own corporation.

The purpose for the development of the independent leagues roots from the 2004 Orix Blue Wave-Kintetsu Buffaloes merger. There were signs of new teams developing due to the possibility of other NPB teams disappearing, but the merger and subsequent entry of the Rakuten Golden Eagles put the idea on hold. Although new expansion teams entering the NPB did not occur, former player and manager Hiromichi Ishige stood at the forefront of the development of the then Shikoku Island League and currently is the commissioner of the Kansai Dokuritsu League.

New teams entering the NPB might be unrealistic in the near future, but creating more opportunities around Japan for not only players, but coaches, front office personnel, and umpries should benefit Japanese baseball. The independent leagues are under the philiosophy of creating local fans and opportunities for more people to be able to pursue their dream as a baseball player. As every league is expanding yearly and developing new relationships with each other (such as interleague play), there are no limits to the possibilities.

Operating the leagues is not an easy matter and will take years for teams to have their own beautiful ballparks like many of the minor league teams here in the United States, but as long as more players and coaches along with the people who want to be in sports get involved, and are able to receieve support from sponsoring companies, the development should continue. More opportunities and the expansion of baseball around the country should keep baseball one of the most popular sports in Japan for a very long time.

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Recommended Reading

» 24 May 2009 » In international baseball, npb, sports business » 2 Comments

One of the positive outcomes after the Kintetsu Buffaloes-Orix Blue Wave merger and the addition of Rakuten Golden Eagles in 2005 was the increase of interest in sports business from the general public. The development of the problem was publicized daily on every media and I personally remember wanting to know the details and learn exactly what was happening behind the scenes. I was probably not the only one developing an interest in the subject, as many teams around the league started to show signs of emphasizing the business side of their operations. From that time on there have been many books published on the business side of NPB and, for bilingual readers, I would like to recommend some of the books I have read recently and in the past which might catch your interest.

I will try introducing some good reads at times to get a better understanding and learn what happens behind the scenes in Japanese baseball and sports in general.

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More Than A Game

» 21 May 2009 » In international baseball, npb, sports business » 9 Comments

The Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters are expanding their product beyond baseball, and into the dating industry. On the July 11th and 12th home games, the Fighters are selling special tickets directed to 50 men and 50 women looking for a partner. Participant are limited to people over the age of 18 for the purchase to Konkatsu Seat.

In recent years, only one of four young people in Japan are getting married and action needs to be taken place in order to reverse the trend and increase the number of marriages. The word Konkatsu (Kekkon Katsudou; Action for Marriage) has become part of the common vernacular. This is the main reason the Fighters decided to take a nationwide problem and utilize it in their business.

Here are some bullet points about the Konkatsu Seat project:

  • Male fans will be given a recognizable symbol to attach to their clothes. Female fans will recieve a card with a matching symbol. The couple will be assigned randomly with the male mark on their clothes matching the female mark on their card
  • Fans who purchase Konkatsu Seat tickets will be in a drawing for gifts such as a free pair of airplane tickets
  • Seat changes will occur between innings to add on to the excitement
  • The seats will be placed behind home plate and fans might need courage to participate as there is the possibility they will be shown on television

Fighthers star outfielder Atsunori Inaba comments on Sponichi: “It’s great that the Sapporo Dome can be the starting point. Having the same interest is important. We hope that new couples will come back to the game for a date”.

If a couple that meets at the game ends up getting married the plan is to invite them for the ceremonial first pitch to have their first appearance as a wife and husband on the field.

The results after the first day of sales for the Konkatsu seating are surprising… the female demand has surpassed the supply and the female ticket allotment sold out on the first day. On the other hand, the male tickets are still available and only about ten tickets had been sold after the first day. Team personnel were suprised by this result, and it might be a new opportunity to attract female fans to the ballpark.

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Swine Flu Effect

» 20 May 2009 » In international baseball, npb, sports business » 4 Comments

As we all are aware by now, the swine flu epidemic is causing problems all around the world and is even affecting baseball and baseball fans in Japan. Along with the economic climate, the flu epidemic will be another problem teams will need to fight through during the season to maintain their attendance.

The most immediate loss caused by the outbreak will be the sale of jet balloons. One of the traditions in Japanese baseball, especially at Koshien Stadium is the jet balloons that fans shoot during the 7th inning stretch and after a victory. The risk has gotten too big to allow the fans to continue the tradition and three teams have already prohibited the use and sales of jet balloons in the ballpark including the Hanshin Tigers.

Cautious fans are protecting themselves by wearing masks at the game and players are also doing the same while traveling on the road. Despite this, NPB has not yet taken the measure of actually cancelling games. NPB may need to prepare for the worst, if the situation does not improve, as many sporting events and concerts have already been cancelled in Japan.

Tigers fans who have already purchased tickets are asking for refunds at Koshien Stadium. The longer the swine flu is around, the more it will affect the game of baseball.

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New Stadiums: Big Hits & Long Games

» 19 May 2009 » In international baseball, npb, sports business » 5 Comments

With the first home and away series’ finishing for both Central and Pacific leagues, attendance and average game time figures have been made public. The biggest impact is seen at the Mazda Zoom-Zoom Stadium in Hiroshima. I wrote about the Carp’s new stadium in a previous article.

The opening of the new stadium in Hiroshima has generated more than a 91 percent in attendance compared to last season. To take advantage of the impact generated from the new stadium, the Carp has developed memorabilia items for the fans to purchase. Another strategy which caught my eye for the Carp in the early stages of the season is the number of celebrities attending to throw first pitches. Generating news and publicizing the new stadium to different demographics is a great public relations strategy.

Another team which has not been affected by the economic climate is the Seibu Lions, who’ve seen a 33.5 percent increase in attendance compared to this time last season. The stadium, which has been reconstructed with some of the Dice-K money, is creating an atmosphere for the fans to fill in the stand. Both leagues have increased their attendance at this stage of the season and it will be interesting to see how much of an impact the economy will have in the course of the season.

Attendance is a major concern for any sports franchise this season with the economic uncertainty, but another concern for NPB is the average game time. The NPB has tried to reduce the average game time to under three hours and installed a new 15-seconds rule. However the effect has not been seen yet as the Central League average game time has actually increased four minutes.

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Where does the Posting Fee end up?

» 18 May 2009 » In international baseball, npb, sports business » 1 Comment

I was about to start some research on how the NPB teams utilize the money gained from the posting fee, but then I came across to the perfect article written by David Waldstein of the New York Times, Seibu Lions’ Porcelain and Plastic Memorial to Matsuzaka: Plush Bathrooms.

It seems easy to say that the Seibu Lions have been the most effective team in utilizing the posting fee with Daisuke Matsuzaka as they won the 2008 Japan Series without Daisuke. On the other hand, teams like the Tokyo Yakult Swallows has not been able to recover after allowing Akinori Iwamura to leave and Hanshin Tigers seem to always be missing the inning-eating starter that they had in Kei Igawa. The Seibu Lions are one of the few teams that have generated a win-win situation using the posting fee system.

So what did Seibu Lions do with the $51 million posting fee (about $25M after taxes)…  According to Waldstein the fee was mainly used to reconstruct their home stadium, the Seibu Dome. The Lions…

  • Constructed new concession stands and seating
  • Resurfaced the playing field
  • Installed an enormous video scoreboard
  • Built magnificent bathrooms with electronically warmed toilet seats

The young pitching talents of the Seibu Lions were able to pick things up where Daisuke left and become the NPB Champions for the 2008 season. Even though they allowed their superstar to leave for MLB, the Lions were able to set up a win-win situation in the aftermath. So do you think the Lions were better off posting Matsuzaka to the MLB?

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