The decision by Sinon Corp to sell its baseball team, the Sinon Bulls, fills me with mixed feelings of joy and sorrow. Joy, because if another company takes over, it may bring in fresh blood and revitalize the team. Yet, how long will the Sinon Bulls be able to carry on if no buyer is found? Will it mean the end of professional baseball in Taiwan?
This would not be the first time a baseball team changes hands, and it is something fans should be used to by now. There is always negative news floating around at the end of the regular season. Fans have become numb to it and, despite all the scandals, remain passionate in their love for the sport. Fan support remains the foundation of Taiwanese baseball, which is why attempts to transplant the Taiwanese baseball experience to China have been unsuccessful.
The question is whether the baseball teams and the Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) are passionate when it comes to making best use of their fans.
The answer is probably not. Baseball fans have long tended to support smaller, hardworking teams. This can be termed the “Red Leaf syndrome” — named after the team from Hongye Village (紅葉), Taitung County, which won the Little League World Series in 1968. These fans hope their teams are able to beat the big teams, and this is also a reflection of the national character.
As more information about the CPBL comes to light, revealing insufficient preparation, conservative operations and a lack of professionalism, many have begun referring to the league as “minor league baseball.” Support for teams willing to invest and engage in professional management is increasing, which is why the Uni-President Lions and the Lamigo Monkeys are doing so well at the ticket office.
These changing attitudes have highlighted the managerial and financial difficulties of the Brother Elephants and the Sinon Bulls. It was not surprising to hear these teams resort to scaremongering statements after the end of the regular season, Sinon by announcing it is selling the team and the Elephants’ owner by saying that if Sinon disappears, so might the Elephants. Some saw this as a threat to put pressure on fans and players. Others were overjoyed, thinking it might be a good thing to return to the amateur era and start anew, and that doing so might bring new hope. That view does make some sense.
However, professional sports play entertainment and educational roles. They cannot be closed down overnight. In addition to considerations of profit, forming a team is also a social responsibility. If the CPBL closed down, it would create unemployment among players, CPBL employees, reporters and others connected to the sport, and would also have negative social impacts.
All this relates to the way the CPBL system operates and the mechanism for teams joining and leaving the league being incomplete. With transfers of team ownership and teams leaving the league, the CPBL is beginning to look like a traveling circus. The history of ownership transfers and dissolution of teams is not pretty.Teams being dissolved behave like parting lovers and new team owners behave as if they are engaging in a form of charity.
Assessments of financial sustainability and professional, sincere team management are required, and since the CPBL requires each team to have a home arena, land for an arena must also be obtained. There must be an environmental assessment as well as assessments of the business plan and of home support. All these assessments cannot be completed in a mere two or three years.
In addition, the CPBL has neither the organization nor the financial strength required to set up a trusteeship for the Bulls, which is why Brother Elephants owner Hung Rei-ho (洪瑞河) is expressing hope that the government will lend a helping hand. However, it would be a serious mistake for the government to do so.
Top government officials frequently talk about how depleted the treasury is, and this issue does not even relate to the national team. The government has already provided enough financial aid to the Bulls, and must not use more taxpayers’ money to save the team. It would be better to allow the Taiwan Cooperative Bank and Taipower teams to join the league. They are strong and have sound operational bases, and this would be a much better solution than asking the government for money.
Out with the old and in with the new, start over again. If Taiwan is a civilized country with a decent standard of professional baseball, a more professional baseball league will one day rise from the ashes of the CPBL.
A solution to the current crisis depends on the intelligence and wisdom of the owners of the remaining four teams, because what they say and do is what counts.
Weng Chia-ming is a baseball commentator.
Translated by Perry Svensson