Size-mic shift

Just reminded of this by a Twitter post from the indefatigable @NPB_Reddit of the huge shift that took place in Japan in 2005, when among other things, NPB owners decided that they shouldn’t lie as much to the public as had been common practice.

I replied that the official description of attendance figures since 2005 is “realistic.”

Ironically, the move was kicked off by one of the worst perpetrators of fake attendance inflation, the Yomiuri Giants. The team’s owner at the time wanted to do it for two reasons:

  • People would hear TV announcers say the Tokyo Dome’s stated capacity of 55,000 was maxed out every night, and think no tickets were available so they would give up on getting tickets, and…
  • People watching on TV would hear the announcers say Tokyo Dome was sold out with a crowd of 55,000 and wonder why then there were so many empty seats.

Of course, that implies the fans were too dumb to notice that there were seats available. This reflects the general attitude of teams toward their players and customers that really came to a head in the 2004 season, when owners were keen to contract without any dialog with their customers and employees. In the ensuing strife, the owners were somewhat surprised to see the fans backing the players’ strike and applauding the players who were fighting for them against the wishes of the arrogant owners.

Unlike MLB, where visiting teams had for years received a cut of the gate, meaning attendance was counted, NPB home teams, receiving 100 percent of the home gate used attendance figures for public relations.

So how bad was the owners’ inflation attendance? I studied it 25 years ago, comparing All-Star and Japan Series attendance figures — which NPB used to divvy up the profits between the commissioners office and the teams and therefore actually had to count — and the regular season figures announced by the teams.

A clerk at the Seibu Lions told me that Seibu Stadium could hold an announced 50,000 during a holiday regular season game but only 31,883 during a Japan Series game against the Yomiuri Giants that same autumn because:

“The fire department doesn’t allow us to sell tickets during the Japan Series for people to sit on the stairs, so we can’t have crowds that big.

Seibu Lions team staff in 1995

Of course, there’s always the possibility that the Lions had simply been lying in the first place and then lying to cover it up.

Here are the maximum attendances in 2004 and 2005 for the 11 teams that played both seasons following the dismantling of the Kintetsu Buffaloes through its merger with the Orix BlueWave and the creation of the Rakuten Eagles.

LeagueTeamStadium (2004 name)2004 max 2005 max
CLGiantsTokyo Dome55,00046,129
CLTigersKoshien Stadium53,00048,576
CL DragonsNagoya Dome40,50038,300
CL SwallowsJingu Stadium45,00034,162
CL BayStarsYokohama Stadium30,00026,480
CL CarpHiroshima Citizens Stadium30,00030,059
PLLionsSeibu Dome48,00035,234
PLHawksFukuoka Dome48,00035,123
PLFightersSapporo Dome43,00035,156
PLMarinesChiba Marine Stadium35,00028,950
PLBlueWave-BuffaloesKobe (Yahoo BB) Stadium35,00031,681

A few comments are worth making. The Fighters would announce “realistic” crowd figures of around 42,000 starting in 2006, when they won their first pennant in Sapporo, although a team official at the time confided that his team fudged the numbers, and he suspected other teams did, too.

Perhaps the most egregious lie I can find in my data base belongs to the 1962 Toei Flyers, who claimed crowds on the opening weekend from 55,000 to 65,000 at Jingu Stadium. The park’s capacity may have been somewhat larger then, before the outfield grass seating was replaced by bleachers, but at the Japan Series that autumn against the Hanshin Tigers, the Flyers best crowd was 38,733.

It has been reported that the Yomiuri Giants wanted to be “honest” about the Tokyo Dome’s capacity when it opened in 1988, but found it would be hard to explain how they moved into a new park with a smaller capacity. The Giants had been announcing crowds of 50,000 at Korakuen Stadium, which never had a Japan Series crowd larger than 47,452. Tokyo Dome did have a slightly smaller capacity — around 46,500 when it was built, but the Giants couldn’t resist calling it 55,000.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.