For baseball owners, it’s fantasy timeIt's that time of the year again. The mild spring breeze crosses the field, baseball players hit and run for meaningless innings and have fun. It's the only time of year when smacking a double will earn you a friendly tap on the butt from a member of the opposing team and a smirk in return.
It's that time of the year when American kids run to the corner store to buy new baseball cards with the money they just earned mowing their neighbor's lawn. A dad might buy a boy a Texas Rangers jersey with Park Chan Ho's name on it for $34.95 (44,800 won) before taxes. The kid needs a cap? For $24.95 a pop? No problem. What's that? The boy wants a bobble head action figure (price tag: $14.95) too? Sighing, the dad wants to say no but his 8-year-old has already wrapped his small fingers around it tightly and is gazing at the old man with eyes as big as oysters.
After spending some quality time with his family for a couple of games the dad figures, Why not do this more often, and he starts to consider season tickets. The cost worries him but, hey, that's why the American Express gold card is in his pocket.
It's that time of the year when fantasy geeks accumulate more hours glaring at monitors than young men spend peering at Playboys. Fantasy leaguers pay a membership fee of $20 to play online with their friends in a game in which they draft players and get points for their performances in real games.
It's that time of the year when hard-core fans of the game are more than willing to plunk down an average of $40 to support their favorite teams in computer and console baseball games.
It's that time of the year when toy companies fork over hefty licensing fees to teams to use in make-believe games.
It should be obvious by now: The baseball industry and team owners have found numerous ways to exploit fans' wallets. Normally, I would complain about this systematic robbery. But for once I won't because none of the above applies to anyone who lives in Korea and who loves baseball.
One official with a Korean team pointed out that most of the conglomerates here who operate baseball teams do not see a team as a revenue source but as a purely promotional tool to enhance a company's image. Hence, no serious efforts are being made to market the sport. The lack of interest and a marketing strategy have left baseball where it started 20 years ago. Baseball owners whine about the books being in the red, but to date they haven't really made any serious efforts to improve the status of professional baseball in Korea. For the people upstairs, the idea that a baseball team can make money besides the revenue coming from ticket sales is still alien.
As it is, shops offer little if any quality merchandise for fans to buy, and besides going to the games there are not any other options to enjoy the sport. No fantasy league, no baseball computer games, no nothing.
It's not difficult to figure all this out, but for more than 20 years the Korean Baseball Organization has not moved an inch forward in terms of marketing. Will change ever come? If it does, I'll be the first to reach into my pocket.
by Brian Lee
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