NPB’s Tom Negishi, MLB’s Jim Small talk International Ball on “Chatter Up!”
In today’s era, baseball is no longer just “America’s Pastime,” as it’s grown to become an international phenomenon in dozens of countries, including Korea, the Dominican Republic, Australia and Japan. What’s more, baseball’s expansion is not slowing down, as international fans and executives are working around the clock to push the game into new borders and find fans in different countries.
On October 8, two of those executives joined JapanBall’s “Chatter Up!” to discuss the sport’s growth in their respective arenas; Tom Negishi with Nippon Professional Baseball’s Pacific League Marketing, and Jim Small with Major League Baseball. Each spoke on their roles in their respective leagues, and what they’re doing to make the game appeal to new audiences.
Negishi, tuning in from Japan on a Friday morning, went first and discussed his position with the Pacific League’s marketing arm. Negishi spoke mostly on his efforts to bring attention to Japanese baseball in the United States, including the broadcasting of several Pacific League games on American television.
“Our company’s mission is to grow and gain [a] new fanbase of Japanese professional baseball, especially Pacific League baseball,” Negishi said. “The total number of subscriber[s] for the Pacific League games per game will be almost 10,000 or something like that. So I feel that that’s not [a] bad number, but from U.S. guys, it’s a small number. From the Japanese marketing company, that’s not bad. And we hope our marketing activities in the United States will continue to the next year or after, so that we are now negotiating [with] some media compan[ies] in the United States.”
The expansion is impressive, especially considering how difficult it previously was to access Japanese games in the United States. The effort is part of a new wave from the Pacific League, and their teams’ corporate partners, to try a new environment and gain new fans in different areas. Negishi also commented on what he felt the new slate offered to these new fans, saying the Japanese game was amazing to witness on and off the field.
“I think we have two strong points, one is on-field, the other one is off the field,” Negishi said. “The on-field, I think it’s a different culture from [the] United States; it’s small baseball, but our play is now playing very technical… so there’s a lot of technical batters, and so the technical pitchers, like Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanaka, are all from Pacific League. So I think you guys are enjoying [a] different type of baseball from [the] United States. And also I like to mention off-field. If someone, a guy’s visiting our ballpark in Japan, I think it’s a very, very big difference from the United States ballpark, atmosphere. One of them is cheerleaders. Every team has that cheer group, so once the game started, in the outfield stands, they lead all of everything, and they are singing and they’re dancing and clapping. So the atmosphere is very unique.”
Once Negishi finished, Small joined the call and to discuss his work for MLB’s international offices. Small, who’s currently the Senior Vice President of International at MLB, previously worked on opening MLB’s first Asian office in Tokyo and expanding the game in Japan. Small spoke about this experience, and told audience members one of the highlights of his work was the MLB-NPB exhibition games, featuring the Yomiuri Giants and New York Yankees:
“2004 really kind of changed everything for us, and that’s because we brought the Yankees and we brought Hideki Matsui, and that kind of elevated what we were doing there at a pretty high level,” Small said. “The Giants game I think was the second game that the Yankees have played, and it’s packed, 46,000 people in the stadium… Matsui comes up and every eye in that stadium, and every eye on television, this is his first time back at the Dome; a Giants hero, he’s back playing in a Yankee uniform. And his first at-bat, he hits a bomb, and it was the loudest I’ve ever heard that stadium… I’ve never heard a stadium that loud. And that’s so rare. And to have that just diffusive, combustive thing, that was really important for us, and we built on that.”
As the Senior VP of International, Small works to expand MLB’s image, along with the game of baseball, in different areas across the globe. In detailing where the league decides to work, Small said, he had to make important choices on where to place his focus:
“The commissioner asked me to do this study, and we did it and presented it in November, and then finalized in last February, and basically what we did is say ‘Look, we need to focus our resources in five countries with growth markets, these are places where we think we can over-index,’” Small said. “The five places we picked were places that we thought were either an opportunity because something was already happening there, some of it our doing some of it not our doing, or a place where if you’re going to be really called a world sport, you have to have a footprint, you have to have something there to be able to do it. So the five places we picked were Germany, the UK, Mexico, China, and India. So what we’re going to do is over-index in those place and do more than we will elsewhere. Then there’s a tier below that, which is our core markets, which we’re going to keep investing in. So that’s Japan, it’s Korea, it’s Taiwan, it’s the Caribbean countries, it’s Australia, believe it or not, where some great baseball [is] played.”
Beyond logistics, Small and Negishi also spoke about their different experiences dealing with Japanese Baseball higher-ups, what their favorite parts of the international game are, along with other future plans to expand both leagues’ games.
Despite everything the world and baseball has gone through, the game continues to expand, and likely will for years to come. With help from people like Negishi and Small, maybe soon baseball will be “the World’s Pastime.”
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