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.