Baseball / Japanese Baseball

BayStars owner says NPB facing unprecedented situation with pandemic

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

The owners of the 12 NPB clubs recognize the league could face a “critical situation” due to the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak, Yokohama DeNA BayStars owner Tomoko Namba said on Tuesday.

Speaking in an online news conference after an extraordinary owners meeting, Namba said that although the participants did not reach any specific decisions, they had “an animated discussion” regarding the coronavirus, which has forced the league to delay the opening of the 2020 season.

Ten owners and two acting owners joined the meeting, according to Namba, who serves as chairperson for the NPB's ownership group.

On Monday, the league's commissioner, Atsushi Saito, following a meeting with club representatives, revealed the NPB would aim to start its season in mid-to-late June. He briefed the owners about that on Tuesday.

“We are going to have to play fewer games this year and there is a possibility the games could be held behind closed doors,” said Namba, founder of mobile gaming company DeNA, Co., which took over as owner of the Central League team in 2012. “This is a critical situation that professional baseball here has never faced.”

On Thursday, the Japanese government is expected to determine whether or not to lift the nationwide state of emergency for the 34 prefectures that haven't been hit as hard by the virus. The order, originally due to be lifted May 6, was extended to May 31 last week.

Nevertheless, Namba said the owners agreed they should not let their guards down. She also added they were of one mind in wanting to bring baseball back to the fans sooner rather than later.

The owners are also concerned about a drop in revenue for their respective clubs. Namba said the possibility of cutting player incentives, such as bonuses for competing in a certain number of games, was brought up during the meeting.

Saito and Namba said the owners agreed their clubs would have to strengthen their business foundations without relying on help from their parent companies in order to overcome the current crisis.

“And there is no guarantee that this (situation) will end within this year,” said Namba, who became NPB’s first female owner in 2015. “There were opinions that we would have to go with a mid-to-long term way of thinking, looking beyond this year.”

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