Baseball / MLB

Buffaloes, BlueWave owners reach basic merger agreement

Kyodo

Top officials of the Kintetsu Buffaloes and the Orix BlueWave have reached a basic agreement to merge the two professional baseball teams.

Masanori Yamaguchi, president of Kintetsu Corp., which owns the rights to the Buffaloes, said Sunday he reached a basic agreement in May with BlueWave owner Yoshihiko Miyauchi to move toward a merger.

On Monday, Takashi Koizumi, president of the BlueWave, confirmed this, telling a news conference in Kobe that the two sides will hold various negotiations in the coming weeks and months.

He added it would be pointless to proceed in drawing up a blueprint for the merger, such as the name and home stadium of the team after the amalgamation, without receiving the proper authorization. He said the two teams plan to follow necessary procedures after securing the understanding of all parties involved.

Yamaguchi said that in the meeting with Miyauchi following the Golden Week holidays from late April to early May, they discussed the merger of the two Pacific League teams, which would signal a restructuring of the current six-team league.

“It’s impossible to continue a pro ball business that has no prospect of paying dividends (to the parent company),” Yamaguchi said at a news conference in Osaka.

“We decided to have a talk because we were both struggling with our baseball finances. Of all the options, I went with the most realistic one. One cannot consider selling a team without a party who is interested in buying it,” he said.

Kintetsu team president Tetsuya Kobayashi explained that the next step the two sides plan on taking will be to raise the issue at various baseball conferences, including the July 7 baseball owners meeting, and get the final nod from the parties involved.

Speaking to reporters in Tokyo, pro baseball commissioner Yasuchika Negoro seemed positive about the deal.

“Professional baseball is also a part of the economy, and there is an element of difficulty in providing healthy entertainment unless there is profit,” he said.

In January, Kintetsu announced it would put the team’s name up for sale after the 2005 season but abandoned the idea after running into strong opposition from various circles.

On Sunday, Kobayashi said his Osaka-based team and Kobe-based Orix started detailed talks two weeks ago.

A merger between the two clubs would not only mean a restructure of the Pacific League from the current six-team system to a five-team setup, but could speed up the restructuring of Japanese baseball into a one-league format.

Negoro said there is room for debate on the issue.

“In the past there was a time when there were seven teams,” he said. “I think that if we rack our brains for ideas, we can (operate a league with five).”

Pro baseball regulations ban one company from owning more than a single team. The Pacific and Central Leagues have six teams each. Pacific League teams include Kintetsu, Orix, the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks, the Lotte Marines, the Seibu Lions and the Nippon Ham Fighters.

Kintetsu, the only team without a Japan Series championship, has booked losses of 4 billion yen a year due to a drop in attendance at the Osaka Dome, skyrocketing salaries for players and an annual 1 billion yen charge for use of the stadium.

Meanwhile, Orix suffered a slump in attendance at Yahoo BB Stadium in Kobe after superstar Ichiro Suzuki left the team for the major leagues in 2001, and the team has finished at the bottom of the standings for the past two years.

The merger drew contrasting responses from market players on Monday.

Kintetsu’s stock rose 5 yen to end at 405 yen as investors were relieved that its financial standing will improve by disposing of its deficit-ridden baseball team, while Orix lost 350 yen to close at 12,200 yen due to fears that its financial situation may deteriorate by absorbing the ailing team, brokers said.

Meanwhile, the head of Japan’s most powerful business lobby called for a shift to a one-league system in Japanese professional baseball, indicating that the current two-league, 12-team formula is irrational from a business viewpoint.

Commenting on the Buffaloes-BlueWave merger, Hiroshi Okuda, chairman of the Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren), said that reducing the number of teams is “the most rational way” for managing pro baseball in Japan.

“I think having about eight teams will make the quality of play better and can attract more fans,” Okuda said, noting that 12 teams are too many for a country like Japan, where the base of players is not as solid as in the United States.