Emart bought Wyverns for $122 million, name not confirmed
The SK Wyverns baseball club has been sold to Shinsegae Group, 21 years after the club was founded by SK Telecom.
According to press releases from both companies, supermarket chain Emart will take over management of the team, possibly making it the Emart Wyverns, although the new owner could also choose to change the name completely.
Emart bought the Wyverns for 135.2 billion won ($122 million). The retail company paid 100 billion won for a 100 percent stake in the club and 35.2 billion won for facilities and properties. The deal will be finalized on Feb. 23.
The team's new name, emblem and mascots are all set to be unveiled in March, before the new season begins at the start of April.
The sudden news that SK Telecom is selling the club comes as a surprise to baseball fans, as there hasn't been any indication that the company was looking to part ways with the baseball team. In fact, SK has invested heavily in the team and the stadium in recent years, equipping it with the latest 5G technology, a huge jumbotron and an augmented reality setup with corresponding app that allows fans to see an actual wyvern fly around the stadium through their smartphones.
According to an SK Telecom spokesperson, the company wasn't actually actively looking to sell the team. Shinsegae approached SK offering to buy the team with a comprehensive plan to use its retail infrastructure to grow the club and its stadium.
This pitch was apparently so good that it convinced SK to sell the club.
"We saw Shinsegae’s plan and we admitted the retail conglomerate may have ways to run the team in a different way," said the spokesperson. "No matter how well SK has done for the team, we won’t be able to build a theme park or find ways to combine shopping or retail with the Wyverns brand better than Shinsegae. Shinsegae’s pledge was that it would run the team in a 'new, different' way, and we bought that."
Shinsegae Group has been interested in buying a professional baseball team for years, according to a spokesperson. The company also has a history of collaborating with the Wyverns. In 2019, the club even sold a special "Electro Man Uniform" featuring the Emart logo and Electro Man, the mascot of Emart's Electromart electronics store chain.
According to the press release, Shinsegae plans to turn the Wyverns' Munhak Baseball Stadium into a lifestyle park where visitors can "enjoy various services that Shinsegae Group has to offer," and both watch and "experience baseball."
On the field there's not likely to be any changes. Shinsegae has committed to hiring the current front office and coaching staff, as well as the players. There will be cosmetic changes — the SK Wyverns name will have to change, possibly to the Emart Wyverns or Shinsegae Wyverns, or potentially to something completely different. With the team's heritage and history in Incheon, it seems likely that Emart will keep the Wyverns name intact, at least in some form.
The team's signature colors may also change as well. While the Wyverns currently play in red and white, they could shift to Emart's signature orange or to the slightly darker red of the Shinsegae logo. Again, the new owners could choose to go in a completely different direction.
Based in Incheon, the Wyverns were founded in 2000 as an entirely new franchise, taking over the spot in the KBO vacated by the defunct Sangbangwool Raiders. The Wyverns were founded in Incheon as the city was set to be without a baseball team with the Hyundai Unicorns relocating to Suwon, Gyeonggi.
The Unicorns franchise had been in Incheon since the KBO was founded in 1982, initially as the Sammi Superstars, before the name was changed to the Chungbo Pintos, then the Taepyoungyang Dolphins before settling on the Unicorns in 1995. Following the Unicorns franchise and the SK Wyverns, whatever Emart chooses to name the club will be the sixth edition of an Incheon baseball club.
According to reports, SK and Shinsegae are set to sign an agreement on the sale at some point this week, potentially as early as Tuesday. Although neither company has officially confirmed the sale, sources at Emart have told the JoongAng Ilbo that an announcement is coming soon.
The Wyverns have won four Korean series throughout the club's history, most recently in 2018. Although they finished second-to-last last year, the disappointing season is thought to be the result of a tough year for the club, not more systemic issues.
SK Telecom plans to continue its sports investment, but with more of a focus on development.
In a joint statement, SK Telecom said the IT company is now on the search for new sports that it could offer support to, mainly underdeveloped ones that remain at the amateur level.
“There are sports where the professional industry is big enough to survive on its own, like baseball, basketball, volleyball and football," said the SK Telecom spokesperson. "But there are also fields that need more support for growth, and we thought using our capacity for that task would be a good way to fulfill our social responsibility.”
SK Telecom currently owns Esport team T1 with U.S. firm Comcast. The company says it also hopes to expand into more sports that allow it to use its existing IT technology.
BY JIM BULLEY AND SONG KYOUNG-SON [firstname.lastname@example.org]