Two Professional Teams in Busan?

Busan has often been referred as the “Baseball Captial of Korea”.  The legends, the stadium, the incidents, and, of course, the fans has Busan’s baseball feel somewhat exceptional.   The team is one of the three remaining charter franchises.  A game at Sajik Stadium (사직야구장) circa 2008-2011 might have you agree with the nickname.   The city will continue to live up to that reputation as it has been named as the site for the first Baseball Hall of Fame Museum in Korea.

Has this pride, however, turned into vanity?

An interesting event was held on December 20, 2013.  A Busan City Councilman by the name of Park Min-shik (박민식) organized an open forum to debate i) whether Busan should host a second professional baseball franchise; and ii) whether the city should build an indoor stadium.  Five panelists were invited to share their ideas and opinions about the topics in front of about 100 people in attendance, which is relatively a big crowd for a baseball forum.

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*Five panelists discussed about the feasibility of Busan having two professional baseball teams. (Courtesy of iKBC.net)

Living up to the reputation of having the most passionate fans in Korea, strong opinions and remarks went back and forth during the discussion.  And, what was more interesting was the results of a survey released by the host Councilman during the program.  A week prior to the event, 1,000 random Busan citizens (over age 19) were asked several questions on the issue, and below I share some of the results:

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*Results of a survey conducted by Realmeter on 1,000 Busan citizens.

Let’s put aside the obvious results of having a split opinion for both topics.  One number pretty much explains the basis of the idea of having a second team.  Less than 1% of Giants fans support their sponsors: the Lotte Group.  The citizens of Busan are crazy about their Giants, but their love does not go to Lotte.  When the floor was open to the guests, several have expressed their disgust towards the company, accusing them of being inconsiderate and having very little to do with giving back to the community.

Most Giants fans believe Lotte has been using Busan and the city’s potential in tourism to satisfy their greed, yet has been tightfisted when it comes to public investment.  A local media’s report in August added to the fury, as Lotte was caught underreporting their advertising revenue from Sajik Stadium.  To make things worse, the company has not been very generous in maintaining their players.  When their All-Star slugger, Lee Dae-ho (이대호), lost his salary arbitration battle after a overwhelming 2010 season, fans lost their words.  Lee filed for free agency after the 2011 season, and left to continue his career in Japan.

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*Lee Dae-ho during his years with the Busan Lotte Giants. (Courtesy of TENASIA)

Even to young Koreans who are testing the labor market, Lotte is infamous for their low wages, and below average welfare.  Plus, their stingy organizational culture had them spend less than 1/3 of what fellow major conglomerates have spent on corporate social responsibility (CSR).  A 44% drop in attendance this year sounds pretty understandable.

Despite another expansion team entering the Korea Baseball Championship in 2015, many question the league for having a surplus of professional teams.  An expansion team in Busan does seem far-fetched.  Yet, it seemed like the forum implied more than just having an additional team in the mix.  It was more like the citizens’ desire for a franchise that is fully committed to the community.  Well, it is not the first time this topic has been proposed.  In 2006, a candidate of Busan’s mayoral election pledged to build a dome and begin a second franchise in the city.  And, this was when the Giants were coming off five straight seasons of sub par baseball.

 

References:

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