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MLB in Japan & the EPL too?

2008 March 26
by Skip Sauer

From today’s WSJ:

The number of MLB licensees in Japan has grown to 61 from just six in 2000, according to MLB. Retail sales revenue from licensed products has nearly tripled during that time to $103.7 million, according to MLB figures.

Local partnerships include Uniqlo, a unit of Fast Retailing Co. and one of Japan’s leading clothing retail chains; LB-03, a fashion line for young women; and Toys “R” Us, whose stores in Japan have MLB corners selling branded toys and apparel. MLB apparel is also sold at some 2,000 sporting-goods stores around the country, according to Miki Yamamoto, senior vice president of IMG Licensing Asia, which handles licensing here for the league.

At the 109 shopping mall in the Shibuya neighborhood, a popular hangout for Tokyo’s young and fashionable, “you can see kids with very hippy, trendy designs with a Red Sox logo or shocking pink Yankees clothing,” Ms. Yamamoto says. “Those girls are buying those products without knowing how Daisuke is doing or how Ichiro is doing. This is not just about baseball; it’s a culture now.”

In terms of TV viewership, pitcher Hideo Nomo, who joined the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1995, was the wedge in the door, with the public broadcaster NHK showing the games he pitched. But the advent of Ichiro, a center fielder, took things to another level, because a position player plays every day, while pitchers rotate in every few days.

“Now you had an everyday player, who’s out playing 162 games a year,” MLB’s Mr. Small says. “That made great television: Folks could tune in every day knowing he was going to play.”

MLB soon negotiated a new six-year TV deal with Japanese advertising giant Dentsu Inc. valued at a reported $235 million, three times as much as the previous deal. The money from the broadcasts, as well as from sponsorship deals and sales of licensed merchandise, is split equally among the 30 major-league teams. Fans also can catch a nightly news feed with highlights of Japanese stars in the majors.

So the money is there. No question about that. A similar prospect is roiling the waters across the Atlantic. English fans are out of sorts over the Premier League’s consideration of playing “games that count” abroad. In MLB’s case it is just two games out of two thousand or so, and the home field advantage is slight. The competition is marginally affected, at best, by playing games abroad at the start of the season. In English football, home field advantage is significant, and every point is precious when relegation is a threat or European places are at stake. But the money tide will be very difficult for EPL owners to ignore.

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