NPB Attendance Well Up in 2015

Japan’s NPB had one of its best seasons ever in terms of regular season attendance.  According to Yakyu Baka, both the Central and Pacific Leagues set new records for per game average attendance, even though the schedule was reduced from 144 games to 143 games per team this season.  At least five of NPB’s 12 teams set single season per game average attendance records.

Here is a list of each team’s total attendance (and per game average):

Yomiuri Giants                              3.001 M (42,270)

Hanshin Tigers                              2.878 M (39,977)

Fukuoka Softbank Hawks           2.536 M (35,221)

Hiroshima Toyo Carp                  2.110 M (29,722)

Chunichi Dragons                        2.050 M (28,469)

Nippon Ham Fighters                 1.960 M (27,221)

Yokohama DeNA Bay Stars       1.814 M (25,546)

Orix Buffaloes                               1.767 M (24,890)

Yakult Swallows                           1.657 M (23,021)

Seibu Lions                                   1.617 M  (22,456)

Rakuten Golden Eagles             1.542 M (21,467)

Chiba Lotte Marines                  1.322 M (18,620)

There have been essentially no changes between the rich teams (Yomiuri, Hanshin and Softbank) and the poor teams (Orix, Yakult, Seibu, Rakuten and Lotte), but the Hiroshima Carp have firmly moved into middle tier of teams, the Yokohama Bay Stars threatened to do so, and it was mostly poor teams that set team attendance records this year.

If this year’s attendance trends continue for the next few years, NPB, or at least its wealthiest half dozen teams, should be in a position to begin challenging MLB for some of the world’s top baseball talent.  To date, however, NPB teams, even the truly rich ones, have shown no interest in making salary offers to elite players that would make the teams truly world class.

Even with terrific attendance and national television contracts, NPB teams are not as wealthy as MLB teams, because they are not run as efficiently.  NPB teams are owned by individual corporations, and largely serve as public relations and advertising vehicles for those corporate owners.  This is hardly as economically efficient as non-corporate ownership, which would be better positioned to make advertising and sponsorship deals with many corporations based on highest-bidder principles, rather than advertising primarily for only one corporation.

It’s a little like the history of television in the U.S.  In the first ten years of TV (1948 to 1957), TV shows frequently were sponsored by only a single advertiser.  Since 1960, TV stations have firmly decided that 30-second commercial slots going to the highest bidder are a lot more profitable.

In MLB, brewery owners like Anheuser-Busch (Cardinals) and Jerry Hoffberger (Orioles) once owned baseball teams because of the synergies between professional sports and beer sales.  However, the baseball teams were eventually spun off, because they are simply more profitable if you have multiple bidders for the right to sell and advertise beer for the teams.

For most of NPB’s history, almost all of the teams played in Japan’s two largest markets, Greater Tokyo and Greater Osaka, presumably because NPB’s corporate owners thought their brands were best positioned in Japan’s two largest markets.  This was clearly a mistake, as the Yomiuri Giants and the Hanshin Tigers dominate these two markets, and the poor NPB teams are almost all the less-popular teams in these two markets.

Ever so gradually, teams have been moving into smaller markets like Fukuoka, Sapporo and Hiroshima, and these teams have developed local fan bases and drawn much better than they did as less popular teams in Tokyo or Osaka-Kobe.

Yet, even today seven of NPB’s 12 teams still play in greater Tokyo and greater Osaka, five in greater Tokyo alone, at least one or two teams too many.

Ultimately, I’d like to see NPB teams run as profit-making ventures in their own right, the rules on foreign players relaxed, and teams try to put on a truly world class product by spending the dough on top professional talent.  However, NPB has operated for about 80 years now on its own particular model, and I doubt it will change much any time soon.

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