• Kyodo

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The Japanese owner of Taiwan’s first foreign-owned pro baseball club unveiled the new name and uniform of the team on Tuesday, hoping to apply his experience in Japan to attract more fans to the team’s home stadium in Taiwan.

Hiroshi Mikitani, founder of e-commerce giant Rakuten Inc., told a news conference in Taipei that he plans to apply the experience his firm has with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles to the new team, the Rakuten Monkeys, whose stadium is in the northwestern city of Taoyuan.

“We want to see more people come to the stadium to see baseball,” Mikitani said in English.

Mikitani said when he ventured into Japanese professional baseball in 2004, the Eagles attracted only 7,000 to 8,000 fans to its games when it first started. Now the number has grown to 25,000 and baseball has become “one of the most attractive entertainments in Japan.”

“We have this experience in Japan and we’d like to bring all this experience to (the) Taiwanese baseball industry,” he said.

To that end, Mikitani said, baseball must become an attractive sport in Taiwan and the level of the game must be upgraded as well.

While details of the action plan are still being mapped out, Mikitani revealed the bottom line is to build a sustainable base of fans by engaging them through personalized experiences such as fan clubs, music concerts and much more.

“We hope to offer more than the sporting event itself,” he said.

Yozo Tachibana, president of the Eagles, said when fans go to Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi to see baseball, they bring their families along because they can spend time at the nearby carousel and Ferris wheel.

“We’re thinking of doing the same in Taiwan,” he said, adding that other activities that can attract fans to the stadium include concerts and barbecues.

While the fan engagement strategy may take time, Tachibana said the club does not expect to generate sustainable revenue for the first few years, but will instead commit itself to attracting, and hopefully retaining, a new generation of die-hard fans.

Rakuten announced in September it would buy the Lamigo Monkeys, marking the end of an era in which Taiwan’s pro baseball clubs were owned by local small and medium-sized businesses.

Lamigo Monkeys fans were shocked when the club announced in July it was looking for a buyer due to financial losses.

Despite its financial woes, the team has won six championships in the Chinese Professional Baseball League. It is also among the most popular clubs in the league, with the highest average attendance per game last year.

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