Major League Baseball Expands to South Korea: A Booming Business Opportunity in Asia’s Growing Market

At a time when sports journalists fear a decline in the popularity of sport in the United States, Major League Baseball (LMB) is playing the big game in South Korea. Thanks to the impact of Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani, games between the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres played in Seoul represent a huge business opportunity in a booming Asian market.

Seeing the fervor of fans roaring into the Gocheok Sky Dome and lining up to buy souvenirs, including C$240 jerseys, it’s easy to see the financial potential.

With the sponsorships, the merchandise sales, the tour groups that will fly from Asia to Los Angeles and San Diego to see these Asian stars play later, that’s a lot of money on the line. The Dodgers and Padres will be able to raise ticket prices because demand will increase, says Robert Whiting, a journalist, author and observer of Japanese baseball since the 1970s.

Baseball has been on the rise in Asia for the past year. Japan won the World Classic in March 2023, the Japanese NPB league is preparing to celebrate its 90th anniversary, the Taiwan league is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year and record contracts have been awarded in recent months to Shohei Ohtani as well as to other Japanese and Korean stars.

The kids are going to be inspired by some of the great players they see, players that look like them. They can start to dream, says Jee-Hoo Yoo, journalist for the Korean media Yonhap. They can see themselves reaching the Major Leagues. The impact of this series will be great in South Korea, but also elsewhere in Asia.

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Daniel Kim is a Korean baseball specialist for the American sports channel ESPN.

Photo : Radio-Canada / Philippe Leblanc

According to Korean baseball expert for the American channel ESPN Daniel Kim, this recognition of Asian talent will contribute to the growth of the sport in these countries which have been passionate about baseball for so long. The sport arrived in Asia thanks to American missionaries.

In terms of gaming globalization, we still have a way to go. Personally, I would like to see more Korean, Japanese and Taiwanese players playing in the major leagues, but there has been steady progress since Chan-ho Park became the first Korean player to play in the LMB. For many players, even back then, playing in the major leagues wasn’t even an option. They wanted to become a star in the KBO league in South Korea. None of the players at the time realized it was possible to become a major league player. But today, most will tell you that their ultimate goal is to make it to American baseball. We’re going to see more Asian players playing in the major leagues and I think it’s really good for everyone, explains Daniel Kim.

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This fan is holding a sign on which he writes that he traveled less than five kilometers to see a major baseball game.

Photo : Radio-Canada / Philippe Leblanc

These players and this Asian audience could very well help major league baseball continue to grow. Fans, especially in Taiwan and Japan, are much younger than in North America.

Part of this enthusiasm is due to the culture of singing and dancing during the match to encourage the players. Each player is entitled to their own song to motivate them. In Japan, fans even play music. A brass band is in the stands to add to the atmosphere.

A carnival atmosphere reigns in the stands, whether the fans’ favorite team wins or loses.

We try to encourage our team as if we have an advantage. We try to give more energy and make the other team nervous so we can bring that positive energy into our team. There are always winners and losers in sport. But the fans came to see the match, so they have to enjoy these moments. We need to continue to encourage the team and put on a good show, says Lee Yoon-Sin, the cheerleading captain for the Korean team LG Twins.


Philippe Leblanc’s report

Photo : Radio-Canada / Philippe Leblanc

Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Tyler Glasnow was so impressed by the Korean crowd that he hopes to see the culture of loud cheering come to North America this season.

Major League Baseball is targeting new markets. They presented regular season games in Japan, Australia, London and also Mexico. South Korea could well become a regular destination on the calendar.

2024-03-21 13:55:58
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