South Korea’s KBO Growing Fast
I’ve already written about how South Korea’s KBO is growing by leaps and bounds — the eight-team league drew seven million fans in 2012 for the first time; it was the fourth year in a row KBO set a new attendance record; and South Korea’s 2008 Olympics Gold Medal and 2009 World Baseball Classic (“WBC”) second place finish have shot baseball past soccer as South Korea’s most popular team sport. Yet, I’m embarrassed to admit that until today I was unaware that the KBO is expanding. KBO will add a ninth team, the NC Dinos in 2013 and a tenth team, as yet unnamed, to bring the league back to an even number of teams in 2015.
The NC Dinos will play in Changwon, a city in the far south of South Korea with a 2010 population of nearly 1.1 million. Changwon is not far from Busan, home of the Lotte Giants, KBO’s most popular and successful franchise. Clearly, the NC Dinos are hoping that some of the Lotte Giants’ magic will rub off on them. Busan is a much better city, but the Dinos will have an immediate rivalry with KBO’s most popular team, which can only be good for the Dinos’ box office.
The Dinos wasted no time signing two American pitchers, Charles Shirek and Adam Wilk, whom I wrote about a week ago. [KBO has a salary cap for foreign players of $300,000 per season, but reports are that KBO teams now routinely violate the cap to sign better American pitchers such as Wilk, Dana Eveland, Doug Slaten and in 2011 Justin Germano, to name only a few. Bringing in the best available talent costs money, and with interest in the KBO exploding, the wealthier KBO teams are, not surprisingly, playing fast and loose with the rules. Also, since KBO teams are limited to two foreign players each season, a salary cap makes little sense.]
However, baseball owners being baseball owners regardless of the country or continent, it took a push for KBO owners to agree to adding a tenth team, as obvious as such a move seems after expanding to nine teams in light of the obvious scheduling considerations. The Korea Professional Baseball Players’ Association threatened to boycott various events, including the 2012 Gold Glove Awards and the 2013 All-Star Game, unless the KBO owners agreed to expand the league to ten teams. That got the ball rolling.
The as yet unnamed tenth team will spend two years playing in KBO’s Futures League (which is actually two six-team minor leagues that develop talent for the eight-team Korea Baseball Championship League, which I have been referring to as the KBO), just as the NC Dinos did in 2011 and 2012.
P.S. The SK Wyverns signed long and lean left-hander Chris Seddon. Seddon will be 29 years old in 2013, and he’s yet another pitcher that more likely would have signed with a Japanese NPB team in years past based on his North American professional record, except perhaps for his unfortunately high home run rate.
P.P.S A shout-out to myKBO.net, where most of the information for this post originated.