Yomiuri, the dome and the new stadium

At a Wednesday press conference, the Yomiuri Shimbun Group President Toshikazu Yamaguchi, whose company is involved in a huge real estate development project on the Tokyo bayside that will include a 50,000-seat stadium capable of hosting baseball games, denied there are any plans to move the company’s ball club, the Yomiuri Giants there.

The new ballpark is scheduled to open in 2032,

“It’s only natural to want to try to use it (the new stadium), but no plans have been made around the concept of changing the team’s main stadium,” Yamaguchi said.

I don’t intend to be mean, but when it comes to the Yomiuri Giants and their official pronouncements, the best policy is to assume everything they say is a lie.

Ten years ago, Jim Small, currently the MLB vice president in charge of MLB International, told me he had strongly recommended the Giants take advantage of a huge real estate opportunity on Tokyo’s waterfront to build a team-owned state-of-the art ballpark. The Giants, Small said, loved to complain about Tokyo Dome to anyone who would listen, but couldn’t bring themselves to actually leave.

The new ballpark and the goblins

Last month, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government named a consortium that includes the Yomiuri Shimbun Group and Mitsui Fudosan Co. to redevelop the area of the old Tsukiji fish market.

The Tokyo government is the same nest of goblins eager to satisfy the corporate greed of Mitsui Fudosan by turning world baseball and rugby history and a place where ordinary people actually play sports into a “sports hub.” This plan will involve removing hundreds of historic trees in central Tokyo, knocking down the fourth-oldest stadium still hosting major league baseball games, and the historic home of rugby in Japan’s capital. In their place will be yet another gentrified concrete, glass and steel jungle like those sprouting up all over Tokyo like Chicken Pox blisters.

The Giants have played at Tokyo Dome since it opened in 1988 adjacent to their former home, Korakuen Stadium, which they had occupied for most of the time from 1937 to 1987, and on whose plot now sits the Tokyo Dome Hotel. In 2020, the entertainment complex of which the dome is one part of, was purchased by Mitsui Fudosan with Yomiuri coming in as minority partners, and a 20 percent stake.

The Mitsui takeover – to prevent the property from being sold to a Hong Kong concern – has probably alleviated the Giants profitability issues. Prior to that, the Giants were tenants of Korakuen Land Company, made little profit on their ticket sales and only profited from merchandise through wholesale vending to on-site concessions. None of the advertising, or food sales went to the Giants.

If Yomiuri gets a 100 percent share of the new ballpark, it will make a huge difference in the team’s revenues and ability to compete in an increasingly difficult pro baseball environment they lorded over for most of six decades.

Small’s suggestion about a new ballpark was part of his vision of a Japanese pro baseball that is at least as competitive as MLB and would attract the highest quality players from around the world. That isn’t a vision shared by most of Japan’s owners.

A move by Yomiuri into a state-of-the-art facility might signal that the SoftBank Hawks are not the only franchise interested in really moving out of the current paradigm where operating losses are tax write-offs that are far outweighed by immense advertising benefits.

Lies, damn lies and Yomiuri SOP

As to why Yamaguchi might lie about it, I would assume it came with the owner’s operating manual – especially when it comes to stadiums.

When the Giants played at Korakuen Stadium, they issued inflated attendance figures, and then had to do the same at Tokyo Dome. Even though Tokyo Dome held more fans than Korakuen, it didn’t hold as many as the Giants said Korakuen held. So the team announced its 46,000-seat park held 55,000.

After the 2004 strike, when fans sided with players against the owners, teams began scrambling for new ideas. The Giants’ radical plan was to begin announcing “realistic-sounding” attendances.

For years, the Giants had announced every game a sellout of 55,000, when it was obvious to TV viewers watching that most games had blocks of empty seats. The Giants owner in 2005 – Tsuneo Watanabe having stepped down after it was revealed the team was one of several to have been paying cash stipends to amateur pitcher Yasuhiro Ichiba—came up with the following rationale:

“We should start announcing actual attendances (instead of routinely lying) because fans watching on TV might not try to buy tickets to games because they think we’re always sold out.”

This was, of course, a lie, because everyone watching on TV could see the games were not sold out.

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