Another NPB failure

Unlike MLB, which manages its media relations in an orderly fashion, NPB has, for reasons I still cannot fathom, never stepped in to ensure that media covering the Japan Series have orderly and predictable access before and after the games.

Other than the required managers’ meeting on the Friday before Game 1, and the obligatory press conferences that day, the teams run everything.

Since NPB delegated media access to the teams in 2020 to develop individual COVID responses in regards to the media and fans, Japanese pro baseball has ended a 70-plus year tradition of allowing reporters in every park at every game on the field and in the dugouts before games while letting them follow players after the games.

Since NPB did not rescind the teams’ rights to set their own rules after May 8, when COVID ceased being a national emergency, 10 of the 12 teams have severely restricted access for one reason or another that did not exist prior to June 2020.

In the Japan Series, this meant that instead of one pass for all the games, there was one pass and one set of access rules for Osaka UFO Dome and one pass and set of access rules for Koshien. In Osaka, reporters were allowed to talk to Tigers and Buffaloes players on the field on game days and both teams were required to allow the media to stand adjacent to the dugouts, which have three field exits, the middle of which is closest to the clubhouse door.

The Buffaloes set their press barrier so that it was adjacent to the center dugout entrance, so most of the Buffaloes players walked past. Hanshin’s PR commissars set the barrier for the media next to one of the wing dugout entrances, far enough from the middle entrance that Tigers players going that way could pretend not to hear you calling them to come over and talk.

I talked to NPB’s CL administrator on the first practice day and complained that letting the teams dictate the media coverage at the Japan Series results in uneven coverage.

After series games, the teams decide where, when and how their people will be available and only communicate this to the reporters who cover the team all year, enhancing the dependency of beat writers on teams’ good graces, while often putting those who aren’t subservient to individual clubs at arm’s length.

This is personal because the market for written English language game coverage has all but evaporated in the last 15 years, and has been replaced by stories about the game itself, the people who make it up and its culture and history. Unhindered pregame access opens doors to that kind of information, and the current restrictions allow players to say “no” while pretending to them and the teams that they didn’t.

At Yokohama Stadium, DeNA permits fans to be on the field during batting practice, where the team this year banned reporters because it is “unsafe.”

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