The owners of the Brother Elephants (兄弟象) Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL 中華職棒) team yesterday announced that they are unable to absorb mounting financial losses and have put the team up for sale, while requesting the government’s help to seek a buyer.
“I hereby announce the painful decision, made at our board of directors meeting on Friday, that the Brother Elephants club will head into history,” Brother Elephants chairman Hung Jui-ho (洪瑞河) said, as he and his daughter, Brother Elephants general manager Hung Yun-ling (洪芸鈴), stood and bowed in a gesture of apology to baseball fans.
“We hope to find a new owner by the end of this year,” he said, adding that he welcomes large conglomerates with solid financial bases to contact him to negotiate a deal.
“If we are unable to find a suitable buyer by the end of this year, then the Brother Elephants will play one more season in the league. We hope to have a buyer for the ball club next year,” Hung said.
The news that the Hung family was putting the Brother Elephants franchise up for sale, although it had been rumored for some time, nonetheless comes as a big shock to Taiwan’s sports community.
Baseball fans and players were buzzing following the announcement. On the CPBL’s Web site, supporters of the Elephants expressed their sadness, saying it was the end of an era in Taiwanese baseball, and thanked the team for bringing them many happy memories.
One netizen using the name “Brother Soul” (兄弟魂) wrote: “I will continue to support the ball club under a new name, because the team spirit will always remain.”
Other fans said they are glad of the development, because the Hung family did not have the financial clout to compete against the other CPBL franchise owners, who have deep pockets.
One netizen called “Wuwo” (無我) said the small-market mentality of the Hung family has been impeding the progress of professional baseball in Taiwan, such as building up a proper free-agency system, minor league teams and a real home-and-away structure with ballparks in each team’s home cities.
Hung said that a deciding factor was the NT$1 billion (US$34 million) in losses the team has suffered through its 24 years in pro baseball.
“In the beginning, we estimated the yearly operating deficit would be only between NT$10 million and NT$20 million, but we just cannot absorb the current yearly losses ranging between NT$40 million and NT$50 million,” he said. “So it is time for us to take a rest. There are many business groups in Taiwan who are bigger than our Hung family’s Brother Hotel. So we wish to find a buyer who is genuinely interested and willing to invest in pro baseball.”
The list of potential buyers are said to include some of Taiwan’s top companies: HTC (宏達電), Hon Hai / Foxconn Technology Group (鴻海集團), Cathay Financial Holding Co (國泰集團), CTCB Financial Holding Co (中信集團) and Wei Chuan Food Corp (味全公司).
Analysts put the value of the Brother Elephants franchise at between NT$300 million and NT$500 million, which is at least twice the value of the NT$130 million sale of the Sinon Bulls (興農牛) franchise to EDA Group (義大集團) last year.
According to a report in Taiwan’s Chinese-language China Times newspaper, the Hung family have already attracted interest from business groups in China.
The report said a high-value deal has been offered by Beijing-based Huayi Brothers Media Corp (華誼兄弟傳媒集團), a Chinese conglomerate involved in movies, music, television and entertainment.
However, Hung said his family is strongly opposed to selling the franchise to any Chinese company.
“If a big conglomerate from China wants to buy this team, we would just disband and fold the ball club. The team will not have Chinese owners,” he was quoted as saying.
Instantly recognizable in their all-yellow uniforms, the Brother Elephants are said to be the most popular team in Taiwan, and have won seven CPBL championship crowns. Their fans are called the “Yellow Jersey Army” (黃衫軍) and don various shades of yellow clothes.
The Brother Elephants and the Uni-President Lions (統一獅) were two of the original founding ballclubs when the CPBL was launched in 1990, and are the only surviving teams. The other two founding clubs of the CPBL were the Weichuan Dragons (味全龍) and the Mercury Tigers (三商虎), both of which folded at the end of the 1999 season.
The other two teams in the league are the Kaohsiung-based EDA Rhinos (義大犀牛) and the Taoyuan-based Lamigo Monkeys (Lamigo桃猿).