Now that the World Cup craze has subsided, it is officially time for baseball.
The Korea Baseball Organization league has just stepped into the second half of its season, and some of the country’s top conglomerates are biting their nails over the rankings.
This is mainly because business tycoons dominate baseball teams here. Among the nine KBO league teams, all except for the Nexen Heroes are owned by corporate figures.
The wealthiest owner of the bunch is KIA Tigers owner and Hyundai Automotive Group chairman Chung Mong-koo, whose wealth is estimated at 6.8 trillion won ($6.7 billion) in stock value.
Though his team is sixth in the league, Chung’s wealth outsizes top-ranked Samsung Lions owner and Samsung Life Insurance chairman Lee Soo-bin, whose stock value stands at a relatively modest 274 million won. But his big boss Lee Kun-hee, arguably the wealthiest man in Korea, has been the biggest sponsor of the team and allowed aggressive investment, including talent recruits that have resulted in the team’s strong record by far.
The second richest owner is Koo Bon-joon of the LG Twins. The vice chairman of LG Electronics is estimated to possess 865.5 billion won in stocks.
Hanwha Eagles owner and Hanwha Group chairman Kim Seung-youn with 435.4 billion won in stocks placed third, followed by NC Dinos owner and NCSoft chairman Kim Taek-jin with 390.5 billion won in stocks.
Fifth place went to Lotte Giants owner and Lotte Group general chairman Shin Kyuk-ho with stocks worth 316.5 billion won. In the baseball league, the NC Dinos are ranked third while Lotte and Hanwha sit in fourth and ninth, respectively.
SK Wyverns owner and SK Chemicals vice president Chey Chang-won’s stocks are worth 189.3 billion won while Park Jung-won, who owns the Doosan Bears and leads Doosan Engineering & Construction, is reported to have 171.2 billion won in stocks.
But running a baseball team is more than just sports marketing or corporate social responsibility activities to these owners. The majority are known to be avid fans, dating back to their early days in the U.S. or Japan, which both have larger baseball markets.
“For instance, Park Yong-gon, honorary chairman of Doosan Group, is known to visit the stadium when the Doosan Bears play at Seoul stadiums. When any young players join the team, they visit Park, who memorizes all their records. This gives a real boost to the rookies,” said one business insider.
“Lee Jay-yong, vice chairman of Samsung Electronics and son of Samsung Group chairman Lee Kun-hee, is also known to visit the stadiums with his children as often as he can,” he added.
By The Korea Herald Special Investigative Team