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NPB looks to trim deficit by having third All-Star Game

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You no doubt saw the news item whereby the Nippon Professional Baseball authorities are asking the Japanese players union to have a third All-Star game in 2011, in order to blot a portion of its reported ¥60 million of red ink. Two All-Star games are scheduled so far next season: at Nagoya Dome July 22 and Chiba Marine Stadium July 23.

The Kyodo News article said NPB wants to shift the Chiba date to July 24 and sandwich another game on the 23rd at Tokyo Dome. If the players group agrees, it would be the first time three All-Star games would be played here since 2001. However, staging three such contests was the norm throughout much of Japanese baseball history.

The All-Star tripleheader was held every season between 1963 and 1988. It was 22 years ago when the players association said three games were too many, and a compromise was reached whereby the number of All-Star tilts would be reduced to two most years, but there would still be three played every four years: 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, and so on.

So it was, only a pair of games were staged in 1989, 1990, 1991, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1997 and 1998. As agreed, three were played in 1992, 1996 and 2000 but, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the All-Star series, NPB scheduled three games in 1999.

There were also three on the docket in 2001, with the third played at Sapporo Dome to commemorate the opening of that stadium which at the time did not have a franchise.

It seemed as if NPB was coming up with a reason to play three games every year and, after three All-Star games were played those three years in a row (1999-2001), the players brought up the agreement, and two games have been played every year since 2002, including 2004 and 2008.

Now, the NPB is looking to schedule that third game again, and we will see what happens. The Commissioner’s Office is the authority for the All-Star games and Japan Series, and the All-Star series in particular, because of its status as an exhibition featuring top players, can provide a huge opportunity to increase revenues.

If the third game is eventually scheduled and played in 2011, the expected crowd at Tokyo Dome would be about 45,000. Multiply that by an estimated average reserved seat price of, say, ¥4,000, and you are taking in a gross ¥180 million. In addition, those 45,000 spectators are going to buy food and drinks, game programs and souvenirs.

Also, the NPB can sell title sponsorship. Since 2008, it has been the Mazda All-Star Series. Sure, the players, staff and the expenses need to be paid, as does the Tokyo Dome rental fee, but NPB can take in some TV rights money and end up with a nice chunk of change.

It is pretty much a sure thing, too, that every All-Star game, whether they play two or three, will be a sellout. Japanese fans are highly attracted to the All-Star series, not only because they can see their favorite performers on one stage at the same time, but also because it is viewed as a matsuri (festival), and we all know how much the Japanese people love festivals.

Picture a warm summer night in mid-July at an outdoor ball park. The fans are given fans (uchiwa) as they enter the stadium. If the weather is good, they are in for a pleasant night of baseball.

The mascot characters of all 12 teams are there to entertain, there is often a pre-game home run derby contest featuring the top sluggers of both leagues, and sometimes there is an induction ceremony welcoming two or three greats from the past into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame.

The cheerleaders are out in full force, and it is one of the rare times you can see, for example, the oendan cheering squads of the Yomiuri Giants and Hanshin Tigers banding together and rooting for players on the same team, since both are in the Central League.

Something unusual and exciting may happen as well, such as in 1971 when Tigers pitcher Yutaka Enatsu struck out nine Pacific League batters in a row at Nishinomiya Stadium.

Or when Yakult Swallows catcher Atsuya Furuta hit for the cycle in 1992 at the Chiba Marine ballpark.

Or when Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters flamboyant outfielder Tsuyoshi Shinjo executed a clean steal of home at Nagano Olympic Stadium in 2004.

There is no doubt the All-Star games are fun and offer a welcome change of pace from the pressure of a hot pennant race, but will the players union agree to play three of them instead of two next July, when they would probably rather play only one?

The players decided not to participate in Nichibei yakyu, the series of postseason All-Star games against visiting major leaguers that used to take place every other year. We have not seen that since 2006. They also have a tremendous dislike for regular season doubleheaders, even when playing two games in one day to make up a rainout would save travel time and money.

I think the players should bend a little here, though, considering the tough economic times, and help out the NPB.

Let’s play ASG 1, 2 and 3 in 2011. Hope to see you at Tokyo Dome on July 23.

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Wayne Graczyk at: wayne@JapanBall.com