• Kyodo


Internet service provider Softbank Corp. said Monday it wants to buy the Daiei Hawks pro baseball club from its financially troubled owner Daiei Inc., marking the latest move by one of Japan’s Net-related companies to expand into the baseball business.

“It would be a great advantage if we could raise the brand image and the name recognition of Softbank through the purchase,” Softbank President Masayoshi Son told a news conference in Fukuoka, where the Daiei Hawks are based.

The move by Softbank, one of Japan’s largest providers of high-speed Internet services, comes after struggling retailer Daiei turned to a state-backed bailout agency for its rehabilitation last week.

Son said Softbank has considered managing the Daiei Hawks for some time now and has held unofficial talks with the retailer since 2002. “This is not a plan we conceived of all of a sudden, or something inspired by recent moves by Rakuten and Livedoor,” he said.

Earlier this year, Rakuten Inc., an Internet shopping mall operator, and Internet service provider Livedoor Co. applied for ownership of a new professional baseball team next season and their applications are being screened by baseball officials. The two companies have also said they want to boost their corporate name value by owning a baseball club.

Softbank, whose group firms include Yahoo Japan Corp., publicly showed its interest in professional baseball last year when it bought the naming rights for the home stadium of the Orix BlueWave. The Kobe stadium is now called Yahoo BB Stadium.

Son, who spent his childhood in Fukuoka, stressed he is a great fan of Daiei Hawks manager Sadaharu Oh, who owns the world record of 868 career homers in Japanese pro baseball.

He also said he cannot think of any other place than Fukuoka for running a baseball business, since the southwestern Japanese city is where Softbank began its business. The company was formally established in Tokyo in 1981, where it is now headquartered.

Daiei has so far maintained it wants to continue owning the Hawks. Daiei informed the Industrial Revitalization Corp. of Japan of this intent when it sought help in rehabilitation from the state-backed entity. Whether Daiei can continue as the club’s owner will largely depend on policies of companies that will sponsor its resuscitation.

Softbank is expected to soon inform the IRCJ and Nippon Professional Baseball of its plan to acquire the Hawks.

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