Baseball / Japanese Baseball

Fighters choose Kitahiroshima for new ballpark site

Kyodo

The Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters will build their proposed new stadium in Kitahiroshima, Hokkaido, the Pacific League ballclub said Monday.

The team, based in the capital of Japan’s northernmost main island, has played at Sapporo Dome since 2004. The club formed a company in a bid to establish the new stadium within a park in the Sapporo suburb. The team aims to begin operations at the ballpark in 2023.

Sapporo Dome is owned by the city of Sapporo and managed by a nonprofit organization. The team is required to pay fees to use the facility with the total annual payout estimated in the neighborhood of ¥1.3 billion ($12.4 million) and does not profit from concession sales or advertising.

“We simply cannot make a profit at Sapporo Dome,” one team executive told Kyodo News after the story was first reported and indicated the desire for an outdoor stadium with natural grass that can be protected from the elements.

The Fighters move toward developing their own ballpark follows the efforts of the Pacific League’s Sendai-based Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles and the Central League’s Hiroshima Carp and Yokohama BayStars. The Eagles ballpark now includes a merry-go-round and a Ferris wheel.

After the club announced its decision to move, both Sapporo and Kitahiroshima offered sites for the stadium. Kitahiroshima’s mayor, Masami Ueno, had formed a working group to attract Nippon Ham, and the city had offered more in terms of support for the Fighters’ plan.

The Kitahiroshima plan included a proposal to shoulder the cost of infrastructure development, lending the land free of cost and providing property tax subsidies for 10 years.

The day after the 2016 announcement, city officials handed a proposal and messages by about 8,000 residents in favor of building the stadium in the city with the population of about 58,000 people.

Sapporo had proposed a stadium site in Makomanai Park, the main venue for the 1972 Sapporo Winter Games. The city’s idea, however, was met with backlash from local residents who opposed the plan.