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KT close to landing 10th team

Telecom giant receives more ‘positive grades’ than rival Booyoung

KT, the nation’s largest fixed-line operator and No. 2 mobile carrier, has taken a major step toward owning a new professional baseball team after receiving rave reviews for its application for an expansion club, officials said Friday. KT received more “positive grades” from evaluators than its rival, a local business conglomerate Booyoung, as they both try to launch an expansion team in the Korea Baseball Organization, league officials said.

The KBO will hold a general meeting of owners of the existing nine KBO clubs next week for the final say on the expansion.

Under KBO rules, expansion is subject to approval by at least two-thirds of team owners. League officials have said their goal is to complete the process in January.
KBO Secretary-General Yang Hae-young announces the results of a board meeting on the review of two bidders seeking to create a 10th baseball team in Seoul on Friday.(Yonhap News)
KBO Secretary-General Yang Hae-young announces the results of a board meeting on the review of two bidders seeking to create a 10th baseball team in Seoul on Friday.(Yonhap News)

It will be the last bureaucratic hurdle for KT to clear before officially becoming an expansion team owner, and it could end up being a mere formality.

The team owners are unlikely to override the results of the evaluation and award the expansion club to Booyoung, sources said. Should it receive the green light next week, KT is expected to join the KBO by 2015.

A group of 22 independent evaluators went over the two sides’ candidacy files on Thursday. On Friday, the KBO convened a board meeting of team presidents and senior league officials to discuss the findings from a day earlier.

After the meeting, Yang Hae-young, KBO’s secretary-general, said KT finished ahead of Booyoung.

“More evaluators awarded KT higher grades than Booyoung,” said Yang, who refused to disclose the final points tally or to say how big the margin was between the two sides, out of respect for Booyoung.

“It appears that KT was recognized for its ability to contribute to developing baseball as an industry and to operate a ballclub on a sustained basis,” Yang added.

According to Yang, KT also offered to contribute 20 billion won toward a baseball development fund. He declined to reveal the amount proposed by Booyoung, but sources said it was 8 billion won.

KT has partnered with the city of Suwon in Gyeonggi Province, just south of Seoul, which would be the base of the new team.

Booyoung has teamed up with North Jeolla Province in the southern part of the country and plans to found a team in Jeonju, the provincial capital.

KT has said Suwon is a larger market and is better suited to host a KBO club, while Booyoung has claimed that the league needs a team farther away from Seoul to ensure more regional balance.

In South Korea, most professional sports teams are owned and operated by private companies. The KBO owners include such major conglomerates as Samsung, LG, Doosan and SK.

Both Suwon and Jeonju have been homes to now-defunct KBO clubs ― the Hyundai Unicorns and the Ssangbangwool Raiders, respectively. Both clubs had to fold under financial hardships, and they frequently played before thousands of empty seats in their final seasons.

When the Unicorns went down in late 2007, KT emerged as a strong candidate to take over the franchise before the plan was rejected by the company’s outside directors, who cited an excessively high league entry fee.

Woori Tobacco, a local tobacco company, stepped in to replace the Unicorns with the Woori Heroes, which later became the Nexen Heroes under a different corporate sponsor.

The KBO will have nine clubs in 2013, as the expansion NC Dinos join the league after spending 2012 in the minors. It is the league’s first expansion since 1991. (Yonhap News)