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KT grabs bat, glove

Telecom giant approved as owner of expansion baseball club

KT, South Korea’s largest fixed-line operator and No. 2 mobile carrier, was approved as the owner of a new professional baseball team on Thursday.

At their general meeting, owners of the existing nine clubs in the Korea Baseball Organization put their stamp of approval on the expansion plan put together by KT and the city of Suwon, the provincial capital of Gyeonggi, located south of Seoul.

It was the last administrative hurdle for KT, which last week drew more favorable reviews for its application from a group of independent evaluators than its rival Booyoung Group, a local business conglomerate.

Booyoung had partnered with North Jeolla Province, with the latter’s provincial capital Jeonju as the proposed home of the new team. 
Yang Hae-young, secretary-general of the Korea Baseball Organization, takes part in a news conference in Seoul on Thursday. (Yonhap News)
Yang Hae-young, secretary-general of the Korea Baseball Organization, takes part in a news conference in Seoul on Thursday. (Yonhap News)

After KT edged out Booyoung in the evaluation stage, subjecting KT’s plan to owners’ approval was regarded as a mere bureaucratic formality because the team representatives were unlikely to override the results of the evaluation.

After the owners’ approval, Lee Suk-chae, the chairman of KT, said the company will try to apply its information and communications technology to baseball operations to create an “entertaining and fun” baseball experience for fans.

“While bidding for the expansion team, I realized how powerful and influential baseball can be,” Lee said.

Yeom Tae-young, the mayor of Suwon, said he expects the city and the province to reap major economic benefits from the new baseball team.

“We will follow our plans and contribute to the development of baseball in South Korea,” the mayor said.

KT will be required to pay 3 billion won ($2.8 million) for the league entry fee and separately contribute 20 billion won toward the league’s baseball development fund.

Also, KT will have to pay another 10 billion won in a sort of security deposit. If KT can’t secure a new stadium of at least 25,000 seats or if it runs into major financial trouble in the next five years, the KBO will then use the deposited money.

Suwon is remodeling the existing Suwon Baseball Stadium, which opened in 1989 with a capacity of 20,000. The city has said the renovated stadium will hold up to 25,000 by the time KT moves in for the 2015 season.

Several names have entered the rumor mill as the franchise’s inaugural manager.

Kim Sung-keun, the manager of an independent team called the Goyang Wonders, is seen as a front-runner, though Kim himself has stated he has no intention of returning to the KBO.

Kim last managed the SK Wyverns in the KBO in 2011.

Lee Suk-chae said the manager and coaches will be named in due course.

“I am not an expert in sports, but I have ordered a team of our researchers to look into how to best appoint coaches and managers,” he said.

KT’s team, which has not yet been named, will be the league’s second expansion club in three seasons.

This year, the NC Dinos, playing out of Changwon, South Gyeonggang Province, will join the KBO as the ninth team, after getting approved by the KBO owners in 2011 and spending 2012 in the Futures League.

The KT ballclub will enter the annual rookie draft this summer and will play in the second-tier competition called the Futures League in 2014.

It will then join the top-flight KBO in 2015. Just as the Dinos did, the KT team is expected to receive prior picks at the draft table.

In Korea, most professional sports teams are owned and operated by private companies. The current corporate owners in the KBO include major conglomerates such as Doosan, LG and Samsung. (Yonhap News)