Heroes eye controversial sponsor

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Heroes eye controversial sponsor

Will the Nexen Heroes change their name to the JT Heroes?

The Heroes are the only club in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) not run by a conglomerate. Instead, they’ve been signing naming sponsorship deals with companies to finance their operations.

Since 2010, they’ve been with Nexen Tire, the nation’s third-largest tire manufacturer.

However, the Heroes are reportedly bidding adieu to Nexen Tire and negotiating with Japanese financial group J Trust on a new deal.

“It is likely that the club will not extend the deal with Nexen Tire,” said an official from the Heroes in condition of anonymity to JoongAng Ilbo on Friday. “We are negotiating with four companies, but J Trust is a possible partner.”

But the news was divisive among baseball fans, as J Trust is known for offering personal loans at interest rates some have claimed are excessively high. Signing a sponsorship deal with J Trust, fans have argued, would imply the team’s support for a Japanese firm that unfairly profits at the expense of Koreans.

Sixty-four percent of people oppose the idea of the Heroes signing with J Trust, according to a recent phone survey of 500 individuals by Realmeter.

Baseball fans aren’t the only ones upset about J Trust’s growing presence in Korea. Last month, actress Ko So-young appeared in a commercial for the company, but the public response was so negative that the ad was scrapped after just a week.

As for the KBO, there is no rule prohibiting a Japanese financial company from sponsoring a baseball club.

“There is no code or reason for the KBO board to interrupt about club’s sponsorship,” said KBO Secretary General Yang Hae-young. “However, we can’t ignore public’s opinion about Japanese capital. We just hope the Heroes make a wise decision.”

Without any ties to a conglomerate, though, the Heroes are particularly dependent on their sponsorships. JTrust has reportedly offered a deal worth 10 billion won ($8.8 million) a year, which is double the team’s current deal with Nexen Tire.

“Among the negotiators, J Trust offered the most rational conditions,” a Heroes official said. “In particular, they guaranteed our independence in managing the baseball club.”

This is not the first time that the Heroes have found themselves embroiled in controversy. The Seoul-based club was founded in March 2008 and was first sponsored by Woori Tobacco - a move so widely rebuked that the tobacco company ended the deal in July of the same year.

The Heroes spent the next 18 months without a sponsor until they signed with Nexen Tire.

J Trust, which has 23 affiliates and reported assets worth 540 billion yen ($4.45 billion) as of the first quarter of 2015, has various businesses ranging from real estate to theme parks.

The group landed in Korea in 2011 and has been expanding through the acquisition of secondary financial institutions. In 2012, the group took over Mirae Savings Bank, and in March, it also bought SC Savings Bank and SC Capital. In July, it decided to unify its financial brand under “JT” to help it transition from a loan company to a savings bank group.

“It’s reasonable for the Heroes to sign with a company that offers a better deal,” said Jeon Yong-bae, professor of sports administration at Dankook University.

“But the Heroes have collected good results in the last three seasons by reaching the post season. It will be better if a local company steps up to make a deal.”

BY KIM SIK, KANG BYUNG-CHUL [joo.kyungdon@joongang.co.kr]

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