South Korea’s professional baseball league will mark the 35th anniversary of its foundation this year. The league, which is now composed of 10 teams, has elevated the sport’s global competitiveness after six teams made their debut in December 1981.
Backed by continuous popularity and rapidly developing play skills of the domestic league, Korea has turned out a number of Major Leaguers, led by Park Chan-ho in the 1990s. In addition, Korea’s national team grabbed gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and become champion of the Premier12 tournament in 2015 by beating Japan and the U.S.
Despite the remarkable growth of the nation’s baseball on the international stage, there has been skepticism over little changed paradigm of yearly pennant races at the same stadiums in same provincial cities for decades.
Some players were implicated in match fixing and some engaged in irregular practices such as drunk driving and overseas gambling. Most of all, more and more star players’ advance to the U.S. and Japan leagues has created steady concerns that the domestic league might lose popularity.
This year, the Korea Baseball Organization has an opportunity to gain a fresh momentum through a possible business partnership with China. The Asian sports superpower, which is pouring huge capital into soccer, is poised to follow suit in the baseball segment.
Senior KBO officials discussed the issue with their Chinese counterparts early this month in Beijing. An official was quoted by a news provider as saying that the Chinese government “plans to invest in fostering a manpower of 10,000 including players, coaches and umpires by 2025.”
This is an encouraging news to Seoul in terms of both increasing sports interchanges and also to open up new sports business, like taekwondo and short track speed skating, on the global stage.
Some critics might downplay the business effects. But we have already seen great value-added effects including TV commercials reaped by enterprises such as Samsung, SK, Lotte, LG, Doosan, Hanwha, Kia and Nexen.
Considering that hallyu entertainment contents are extremely popular in China and many other Asian countries, sports marketing also has great potential. Currently, there are only three countries in Asia that are competitive in baseball -- Korea, Japan and Taiwan.
By making successful inroads into China through offering coaching staff and player resources, there could be a boom in Southeast Asia and other regions. KBO could benchmark the model in which the U.S. has initiated the baseball boom in some Central and South American nations.
Market insiders say the U.S. is targeting China as its future outsourcing pool of players for the Major League. And Japanese baseball equipment makers are also reportedly eyeing the lucrative market. It is time for KBO to make the best of its geographical advantage.
Japan is striving to reattract baseball as a regular sport competition for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics by hosting the Premier12 last year. Baseball has been omitted since the 2012 London Olympics. Korea will be able to play an international role as a strong contender of Japan both in sports and overseas businesses.