Rebounding from years of lackluster fan interest, Taiwan’s professional baseball league has shattered its previous attendance record for the start of the season, sparking new hope for the sport’s future in the once baseball-mad country.
The Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) has drawn 88,699 fans in its first seven games this season, already surpassing the previous high for the first 10 games of a season of 79,090 in 1993.
Taiwan’s performance in the recently concluded World Baseball Classic (WBC), in which the team reached the final eight for the first time, has helped the league overcome an image badly tarnished by repeated match-fixing scandals in the past.
Because of those setbacks, the league’s full-year average attendance has ranged between 1,922 and 3,743 over the past five seasons, far off the nearly 6,000 fans per game the league averaged in its heyday in the early 1990s.
Fan interest has also been invigorated by the arrival of familiar faces, including former Boston Red Sox slugger Manny Ramirez, who signed with the EDA Rhinos earlier this month.
Though Ramirez has gotten off to a relatively slow start, with two hits in 10 at-bats in his first two games with the Rhinos, he has already generated plenty of revenue for the league and the club.
Ramirez’s debut as a Rhino in the team’s opener in Greater Kaohsiung on Wednesday against the Brother Elephants drew a capacity crowd of 20,000, the most for any regular-season game ever played in the league’s 24-year history.
The second game of the series one night later drew another 17,888 fans, bringing ticket receipts for the two games to about NT$7.5 million (US$251,100).
Even the league’s other game played on Thursday between the Lamigo Monkeys and the Uni-President Lions in Greater Tainan drew a respectable 4,166 fans, well above last season’s average attendance of 2,433.