Rakuten hoping to play ball in Kobe

Rakuten Inc., the nation’s largest Internet shopping mall operator, is poised to create a new professional baseball team, sources said Wednesday.

The ball club is expected to be based in Kobe, the hometown of Rakuten President Hiroshi Mikitani, and to use Yahoo BB Stadium as its home stadium, the sources said. Internet business investor Softbank Corp. has the naming rights for the stadium through the end of this season.

The new team is expected to mostly comprise players left over from the baseball club created through the planned merger of the Orix BlueWave and Kintetsu Buffaloes in the Pacific League, they said.

Rakuten plans to establish a company that will operate the club, according to the sources, and will apply for membership to Nippon Professional Baseball. The capitalization and other details of the new company have not been decided, they said.

The NPB and baseball players’ association reached a tentative accord last week to help encourage the entry of new teams, but it remains unclear whether Rakuten can launch the baseball business because specific conditions for the new entrants have not been decided. Analysts said Rakuten is hoping to enhance its name value and broaden the customer base for its Internet shopping mall.

Internet business company Livedoor Co. announced Aug. 19 plans to create a new baseball team and apply to the NPB for membership. Livedoor had sought to buy the Kintetsu Buffaloes, but its offer was rejected. Rakuten has been expanding, acquiring an online brokerage and an online travel information service. In January, a separate firm operated by Mikitani bought the Vissel Kobe soccer team.

Meanwhile, the Nihon Keizai Shimbun reported Wednesday that struggling retailer Daiei Inc. has granted U.S. investment fund Colony Capital LLC the right to veto any proposed sale of the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks, another Pacific League ball club.