Tag Archives: 2004

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.

A brief history of Japan’s interleague

Players on strike sign autographs for fans outside Yokohama Stadium, where they practiced but did not play. The strike led to expansion and interleague play.


For years prior to its introduction, NPB’s six Pacific League teams lobbied for some form of interleague play against the six teams of the then-more popular Central League. These pleas were scoffed at by the charismatic but blowhard generalissimo who ran the Yomiuri Shimbun and held huge sway over NPB policy, Tsuneo Watanabe.

“You only want to make money off games with the Giants. Who’d pay to see Lotte play Chunichi? It’s a joke,” he said in various ways every time the issue was brought up. At that time, sale of terrestrial TV rights for each CL team’s 13 home games against the Giants provided the bulk of each CL team’s annual operating expenses, and none of them were in a hurry to replace a few of those games for home contests against unfashionable PL teams — until the mid-1990s that meant all PL teams with the exception of the Seibu Lions, whose golden age petered out in 1995.

NPB’s summer of discontent

What forced interleague to become a reality was the chaos caused in 2004, when NPB authorized a merger between two PL teams, the Orix BlueWave and the Kintetsu Buffaloes. The merger would leave a five-team PL and a huge scheduling mess, so all that summer, while owners plotted how they were going to move into the future with 11 or even 10 teams forming a single league, Japan’s docile players union located its spine and took action. When players took exception with the owners’ plans to contract NPB, Watanabe in his typical fashion, said, “Who cares what they think? They are only athletes.”

The players, needless to say, took umbrage with that remark, and Hall of Fame Yakult Swallows catcher Atsuya Furuta, then the head of the Nippon Pro Baseball Players Association, began negotiating to stop the contraction. The then commissioner, Yasuchika Negoro, urged owners to ignore the players, convincing them the players had no right to protest. In essence the former bureaucrat said, “Trust me, I know what I’m doing. I personally wrote those labor laws.”

Unfortunately, the labor courts disagreed, slammed NPB for dealing in bad faith, Japan’s only baseball strike occurred, and NPB eventually caved in. But that was after the players walked out on two consecutive weekends during the summer.

That summer owners and players held official negotiations on a weekly basis wherever the Swallows happened to be playing to accommodate Furuta’s schedule. At whatever park the Swallows were playing, the home fans gave the bespectacled catcher a standing ovation when he came to the plate.

The strike

At the time of the strike, I was working at the Yomiuri Shimbun’s English language paper, the Daily Yomiuri. On the first day of the strike, I went to Yokohama Stadium where fans were lined up to get refunds for their tickets. The players from both the hometown BayStars and the visiting Hiroshima Carp both practiced — without coaches, and afterward came out to the ticket plaza to meet fans.

BayStars players rep ace pitcher Daisuke Miura and the assistant players rep, outfielder Takanori Suzuki, got huge ovations from the fans. When I got back to the office in Tokyo to file my story about how the strike was being received, I saw the first morning edition of our Japanese language paper. The editorial blasted the players and said Japanese fans would never forgive them for ruining the game. That was the last gasp of the owners vitriol.

As it became clear that the fans stood with the players, the owners gave in. The Kintetsu Buffaloes and Orix BlueWave became the Orix Buffaloes, but NPB agreed to expedite a process for an expansion team that would keep the PL at six teams. Owners had argued this was impossible to do between the summer of 2004 and the autumn, when a new club would have to take part in NPB’s amateur draft.


Another provision of the settlement was the introduction of interleague play — in order to help the PL teams survive. At first it consisted of 12, three-game series, two each against each team in the opposing league.

Interleague play in NPB is a little oasis between the start of the season and the all-star break, and all the interleague games are completed before league play resumes through the end of the regular season.

“We would have been happy with 18,” former Nippon Ham executive Toshimasa Shimada said. “But they offered 36 and we took it.”

Two years later, the CL pushed for a change to 24 games, and 12, two-game series, calling the original 36-game format they came up with “intolerable.” The CL’s next brilliant idea, a 24-game setup proved even worse, because it meant teams were sometimes off on Friday, a prime day for baseball, and a more hectic travel schedule. So in 2013, the CL once more said, “This 24-game interleague format is ridiculous,” mindful not to mention that it was their idea in the first place.

The real problem of interleague has been the perception that the CL clubs just simply aren’t as competitive as the PL teams. This has been fairly obvious in the Japan Series as well, which the CL has won just 3 times since 2003. So far, only one CL team, the Giants has led the interleague standings, and entering play on Friday, heading into the final few games in PL parks, the interleague-leading Yakult Swallows were the only CL team without a losing record against the PL.

Despite the CL’s mediocre showing and predictions of gloom and doom, average interleague attendance has increased every year but one since it’s inception in 2005. That year was 2011, when Japan was reeling from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami and the subsequent nuclear disaster. Through the games of June 14, attendance had increased this season by an average of 1,349, although that will decline a little next week when the rain-out makeups are figured into the equation.

This year, both leagues have drawn more for their interleague games than they have for games against league rivals prior to the start of interleague in June: 33,208 to 33,112 for the CL, 27,841 to 26,024 for the PL.