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Zimbalist says Matsui’s key impact for Angels will be on the field

by Jason Coskrey

Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui and Daisuke Matsuzaka all helped open up markets and bring new streams of revenue to their respective teams when they made their major league debuts.

Japanese fans flocked to stadiums and snatched up merchandise in droves in Seattle, New York and Boston, where three of Japan’s biggest stars landed upon leaving the NPB.

Ichiro, and later Kenji Johjima, sparked interest in the Seattle area to the point the Mariners began posting stadium signs in restrooms and others areas in Japanese as well as English.

In the Big Apple, the Yankees were aided in their attempts to cash in on Matsui’s arrival when the city named him one of its tourism ambassadors and Matsuzaka’s signing gave the Red Sox a jolt as well.

So should the Los Angeles Angels expect to rake in the dollars now that they’ve added Matsui to the fold?

With a large Japanese population in L.A. and leading Japanese travel company HIS already pondering an increase in the number of tour packages to the region, the Angels would seem to be in prime position to reap the benefits of Godzilla’s arrival.

Not necessarily.

“I believe the main impact will be what he contributes on the playing field,” Andrew Zimbalist, the Robert A. Woods Professor of Economics at Smith College in Northampton, Mass., told The Japan Times in an exclusive interview on Saturday. “The coterie of reporters that follow Matsui add nothing to the team’s revenues.”

Zimbalist, a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Sports Economics and author of several books on baseball economics, thinks Matsui’s signing won’t make a huge impact for the Angels in terms of revenue.

“There also may be some additional Japanese fans in greater L.A. and tourists who come to the games, but, I suspect, that these numbers will be very modest. There also may be some Japanese signage at the ballpark.

“In the end, the fact that Matsui is a beloved star in Japan may add a few million dollars to the Angels’ revenues, but, again, the main impact will be on the field.”

Matsui finalized a $6 million contract with Los Angeles on Wednesday. The team will be looking for immediate returns on the field as the signing all but means the end of the line for the popular Vladimir Guerrero with the club.

The Japanese slugger is coming off a big year as the Yankees’ full-time designated hitter, batting .274 with 28 homers and 90 RBIs in 142 games. He hit .282 with 13 homers and 46 homers against left-handed pitching and went .271 with 15 longballs and 44 RBIs versus righties.

Batting fifth for the majority of the year, Matsui hit .303 and had a .521 slugging percentage with runners in scoring position.

He capped the season by batting .349 with four homers and 13 RBIs in the postseason. Matsui’s last game with the Yankees was perhaps his finest, a six-RBI performance in Game 6 of the World Series which saw him holding aloft the Series MVP award at the end of the night.

A good season in the Angels’ home park, which factored slightly in favor of hitters over the last three seasons, would seem to represent a potential boon in revenue from interested Japanese fans.

Although, whatever increase Matsui helps bring in will likely be subject to Major League Baseball’s revenue sharing system.

“Regarding revenue sharing, the Angels will have to share roughly one-third of any incremental revenue with the rest of the teams,” Zimbalist said.

While there will be inevitable connections with the impact of Ichiro on Seattle and Matsuzaka on Boston, it should be noted the situation with Matsui is not exactly the same.

“Similar,” Zimbalist says. “But, of course, Matsui in the MLB is no longer a novelty and he is not in the prime of his career.”