Sat, Jul 20, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Baseball backers must find balance

By Charles Yu 余宗龍

Baseball is one of Taiwan’s most popular leisure activities. It provides a welcome break from political disputes and has long been the most effective recipe for giving people a sense of well-being.

The Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) has been in existence for 30 years, but in the past several years it has hit a bottleneck in terms of business scale, with only four teams. This year has produced a glimmer of hope with the return of the Wei Chuan Dragons after a 20-year absence.

However, on July 3 the managers of the Lamigo Monkeys said that the club would be sold after years of operating at a loss. This decision comes despite the team’s popularity and their success on the field.

The announcement has caused quite an uproar, with people wondering who will take ownership of the club. At the moment there is no answer to this question, but it provides an opportunity to examine how Taiwan’s professional baseball can swing back up from its current low point, as well as finding businesses that can have a positive impact on the development of the national sport and persuade them to take part in the CPBL.

Here are a couple of suggestions from the angle of operational management.

The first suggestion would be to assess the compatibility between baseball consumers and the target markets of companies that are potential buyers for the Lamigo club.

Looking at a few companies that have pulled out of professional baseball over the years, apart from not having sufficient financial strength, another aspect that is often overlooked is the market positioning of the company.

For a well-known company to take over the club and run it sustainably in the long term, the key requirements are that the target market of the company must have a similar profile and characteristics to the majority of consumers of the sport of professional baseball, and offer competitive products or services that directly correspond to the demands of this kind of consumer.

For example, in the cases of the several baseball backers that have quit running their teams, the target customer segments of their core businesses were not very similar to the kinds of people who are fans of professional baseball.

By sponsoring professional baseball, these companies turned into charities that showered hefty amounts of money on their clubs just to fulfill their corporate social responsibilities, while failing to simultaneously look after their own business benefits, with the unfortunate result that they eventually pulled out with tears in their eyes.

A contrasting case is that of the grand old man of Taiwanese professional baseball — the Uni-President Lions. In the 30 years since they joined the CPBL, their performance has varied between good and bad, but there has never been any talk of the company’s top management wanting to stop running the team because they were not performing very well.

The main reason for this difference is that the target market of the company concerned — food and retail giant Uni-President Enterprises Corp — is similar to Taiwanese baseball fans. This means that by continuing to operate a professional baseball team, it can create a synergistic marketing effect for its corporate brand and products.

If a company with this kind of mindset wishes to take over a baseball team and run it in the long term, of course it will recognize that running a professional baseball team is both a business activity and an investment activity. Thus, even if the club is run at a loss for a long time, the people in charge will be able to see it in a positive light, regarding it as an advertising investment and counting it as part of the company’s annual marketing costs.

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