NPB Attendance Is Up, But Salaries Are Down

YakyuDB, the successor to Yakyu Baka, is the go-to source for daily news on what is going in Japanese Professional baseball.

I was scanning the website to see what has been going on in Japan so far this year, and some articles from May 1st caught my eye.  First, attendance for the first month of the 2016 season is up compared to 2015, which is a very good sign, since five NPB teams set  single season attendance records in 2015.

However, player compensation is down.  Only 64 players (excluding foreigners, which is a mighty big exclusion) will be earning 100 million yen ($930,000 at current exchange rates) or more in 2016, and overall salaries for domestic (Japanese) players is down 2.6% from a year ago, despite better attendance.

92 players made at least 100 million yen in 2012, and there were 88 such players in 2013.  However, that included foreigners.  On the other hand, the yen was a lot stronger to the dollar in those years than it is today.

Since the 2013 season, the NPB teams have apparently stopped releasing salary data for each player, which is a possible reason why salaries have declined or at least stagnated since then.  More information about what everyone else is being paid is a huge benefit to the players trying to negotiate raises.  However, the NPB players’ union almost certainly has the numbers, since it is the source for total team compensation in the blog post at issue.

What can we conclude from this information?  First of all, Japanese players have an extremely weak players’ union, mainly because it is not willing to strike to get better terms.  The only time that I am aware of that the Japanese players’ union seriously threatened to strike was back in 2004, when the Orix Blue Wave and the Kintetsu Buffaloes merged, and NPB threatened to shrink from 12 to 11 teams.

The threat of a strike worked that time, as the Rakuten Golden Eagles were brought into existence to preserve the number of major league jobs for players.

Without credible threats to strike, workers really have no leverage to create better terms of employment.  Unlike in other industries, where highly skilled workers can switch employers in order to get paid what they’re worth, baseball players have no ability to do so because of the reserve clause.

In NPB, players don’t become true free agents until after nine seasons of service, which means that precious few players ever become free agents.  Until then, all a player can do is ask to be posted, but precious few Japanese players are good enough to draw serious interest from MLB teams.

At any rate, something is certainly wrong in Japan if attendance is at or approaching record numbers yet salaries are going in the opposite direction.  I also feel a whole lot less sorry about the fact that MLB is sticking it to NPB in terms of the posting fee cap.

Explore posts in the same categories: Baseball Abroad

7 Comments on “NPB Attendance Is Up, But Salaries Are Down”

  1. Burly Says:

    BTW, South Korea’s KBO set a single day attendance record with 114,000+ plus fans watching five games on May 4th or 5th, breaking the record from 2005, when 101,400 fans saw four games being played. KBO has added two more teams in recent years, meaning an extra game on any given in-season date in which to break the old record. Even so, a new attendance record is still a record and suggests that professional baseball is back on the rise in South Korea.

    • Burly Says:

      KBO reached two million attendance in 168 games this year, compared to 189 games last year, so attendance is definitely up.

  2. kabeiser Says:

    I was hoping to visit Japan this year for a baseball game or two but my planned trip went from 10 days to 5 days to 4 days to 0 days. I will come almost for certain next year for some hiking and baseball.

    I am hoping that Taiwan can expand its league from 4 teams to 6 teams sometime. 4 is just strange since you are always playing the same teams all the time.

    • Burly Says:

      I definitely agree that the CPBL should expand to six teams, at least once league attendance justifies it. Amazingly, it appears that no teams currently play in Greater Taipei, a metropolitan area that could probably support two teams.

      Because of past gambling scandals, attendance isn’t great in the CPBL, and past expansion attempts haven’t really worked. Even so, a four team league is awfully small.

      • kabeiser Says:

        Taiwan does it a little different in that most teams have a home stadium but also play home games in a different city/stadium.

        One team plays across the river from Taipei but Taipei and New Taipei could support another team.

        The league and baseball in Taiwan suffered a setback however when construction was halted on the Taipei Dome in the last year. It is a ridiculously expensive project (and there was corruption) but it would have been great for baseball in Taiwan.

    • Burly Says:

      Any idea what Mike Loree is being paid this year after winning the CPBL Pitchers’ Triple Crown last season? I read on the internet that Andy Cisco was offered $25,000 a month to pitch in the CPBL this year.

  3. Burly Says:

    CPBL attendance has been up in recent years, averaging better than 5,500 per game for the three seasons from 2013-2015. That may not sound like much, but it’s a huge improvement over previous years, and the best league attendance since the mid-1990’s, before the first of the league’s major gambling scandals occurred.

    Manny Ramirez’s half season in the CPBL in 2013 probably had a lot to do with revived interest in baseball in Taiwan.

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