[Outlook]Don’t drop the ballLast winter must have been hard for people in the Korean professional baseball league.
After the Hyundai baseball club was disbanded, the Korean Baseball Organization sought investment for an eighth club in the league. In this process, the league faced the harsh reality of business.
After twists and turns, a company named Centennial Investment, which was hardly known to the public, showed up and the 2008 season was able to begin with eight clubs.
In 1995, Hyundai took over the Taepyongyang club for 43 billion won ($45 million) but the club sold at a bargain price even though the team is based in Seoul. In short, the deal was the most humiliating incident in the history of Korea’s professional baseball.
The depreciation of professional baseball clubs was predicted a long time ago.
After the country went through the financial crisis 10 years ago, profitability was emphasized in the Korean economy, as opposed to just the scale of business.
However, professional baseball clubs ignored such change.
Even when a club saw a deficit, it was O.K. as long as the team won or the owner was satisfied.
If there was a free agent, a club didn’t mind paying a huge sum of money to bring him in. But these days, few owners will be patient for long if their club incurs a deficit of 20 billion won per year.
The Korean professional baseball league must change in order to prevent the humiliation from happening again.
Playing good games is not sufficient. Clubs must do business the right way. The goal should be changed from winning to making profit.
These days, signs of such changes are evident and the role of the KBO is central to this.
But looking closely, these signs are still very disappointing. It seems to consist of changing regulations over free agency or dropping the floor out from under the players by allowing reductions in minimum annual salaries.
The league failed to separate cause from effect. Their understanding is that the size of players’ annual salaries led to the crisis in the professional league.
But the problem is that the KBO failed to do business properly and failed in carrying out promotion and marketing.
That is why the league didn’t make money even though 4 million spectators went to see baseball games last year.
To make the professional baseball league profitable, all parties concerned ―the KBO, the clubs and the players ― must carry out their duties as professionals.
Clubs are likely to change soon because business organizations are sensitive to change.
Last year, the SK Wyverns had a marketing strategy, a mixture of sports and entertainment. Thanks to the strategy, the number of spectators doubled from 400,000 to 800,000.
This year, the club set a goal to attract 1 million spectators. Inspired and stimulated by this move, other clubs are preparing their marketing tools.
The KBO’s role in this is very important.
It must set up measures to help professional baseball clubs do business more effectively. It must establish a system to distribute fees for live broadcasting and sponsorship to different clubs.
Separating umpires as an independent group should be reexamined. As the American Major League does, we should have a triangular system with players, umpires and the KBO as parties.
To help negotiations over players’ annual salaries, an agent system can be introduced. We shouldn’t have players sit at the negotiation table.
More aggressive and efficient marketing is needed. Just as the U.S. National Basketball League brought Yao Ming and spread its market into China, Korea can use the Korean Wave in the professional baseball league.
We should also consider which is more profitable, national networks or local television stations, to broadcast games.
Professional sports are a combination of athletics and business. It is business that creates profits by presenting spectacular games in spectacular ways. Thus, the professional baseball league shouldn’t be only for professional baseball players.
The professional league is a huge business in which baseball players and businessmen should work together.
*The writer is a professor at Sogang University and an editor of the International Journal of Sport Finance. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Lee Young-hoon