OSAKA — As a rabid Hanshin Tigers fan, Daiwa Research Institute President Koichi Kunisada seems pretty sure of the destiny of this year’s Central League pennant — it is bound for Osaka.
“The team will surely win the pennant,” he remarked at his Tigers paraphernalia-crammed office in the city’s Chuo Ward. “Who can think of any other destiny for the team that completed the preseason games so successfully?”
As an economic analyst, however, Kunisada is less sure about the impact a Tigers pennant win would have on the local economy.
Last month, the 61-year-old published a book featuring an analysis of the behavior of Tigers fans and their influence on the Kansai economy.
He said that calculating the economic influence of the baseball team is a difficult gambit, since it is spread over a wide variety of sectors and is a long-term affair.
“It was 17 years ago when the Tigers last won the Central League pennant, but the fans still feverishly support the team,” said Kunisada, who made his movie debut as a Tigers fan in the recently released “Mr. Rookie.”
According to Kunisada, Tigers fans are optimistic and quick to recover from failure, often looking forward to the team’s next victory even as they contemplate a defeat.
As they tend to be a participatory bunch, they can be spendthrifts when the team wins a game or even before the official season starts.
As some of the fans only pay attention to a game when the Tigers are at bat, they also can enjoy the occasion even when the team is losing, he said.
Kunisada joined Daiwa Bank in 1964, eventually linking up with the think tank affiliated with the Osaka-based bank.
One of the duties he pursued in his final days with Daiwa Bank included handling the aftermath of huge bond trading losses inflicted by a rogue trader at its New York branch.
When Katsuya Nomura became manager of the Hanshin Tigers in 1999, many fans, believing he would lead the team back to glory, flocked to Koshien Stadium in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, the team’s home ground, and stocked up on Tigers goods.
The “Nomura effect” on the local economy that year was said to have hit 1.45 billion yen.
In actual fact, the team languished in the cellar of the Central League for the entire three-year stewardship of Nomura, who resigned in the fall following the arrest of his wife on tax evasion charges.
This year’s manager is Senichi Hoshino, who led the Chunichi Dragons until last season. Hoshino’s appointment has again raised the hopes of Tigers fans.
Sales of Tigers goods at Hanshin Department Store during the first three months of the year have already doubled the figure for the same three-month period in 2001, according to store sources.
Amagasaki Shinkin Bank in mid-March launched a special time deposit that will carry an annual interest rate 7.7 times the rate specified at the time of depositing in the event of a Tigers pennant triumph.
In the first 12 days of the initiative, the bank collected nearly 34.2 billion yen. The figure “7.7” echoes Hoshino’s Tigers uniform number of 77.
Some critics say the behavior of Tigers fanatics has contributed to the team’s lack of success — a scenario not unlike that of the troubled Japan Inc., in which poor performers are not always driven out of the market.
While agreeing with this point, Kunisada said the reason the Tigers organization still exists is that the team is a symbol of defiance toward authority, centralism and capitalism — an outlook that is shared by many Kansai people.
“Tigers supporters see their own life in the team, which is struggling to win with not-so-competitive players, unlike the Yomiuri Giants, which spends lots of money to acquire good players,” he said.
“Many Tigers fans are owners of small and midsize businesses. Cheering the Tigers means cheering themselves up, because both are in a weak position (against their competitors).”
Success for the team thus imbues business owners and individuals with courage, generating new consumer demand and new business, he said.
A unique suit whose lining features the Tigers uniform pattern is one example of the novelty products that attract Tigers fans. The suit is produced by a middle-aged man who quit a major apparel company and created his own firm to this end.
Kunisada, who has not had any new suits made for several years, has purchased 10 of the suits. He said they are popular with company owners in Osaka, who have bought more than 600.
The Kansai economy generates worse statistical readings than the national economy, with the local unemployment rate at 6.7 percent in February, compared to 5.3 percent nationwide. Kunisada is confident, however, that the Tigers and its fans will lift the spirit of the people as well as the economy.
“As the mind of consumers is a large factor in boosting a stagnant economy, the mentality of Tigers fans and the victory of the team would definitely lift the Kansai economy,” he said.
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