As CPBL commissioner John Wu’s (吳志揚) term comes to a close, team executives unanimously tapped Deputy Legislative Speaker Tsai Chi-chang (蔡其昌) for the post, which he happily agreed to after a meeting at his office in the Legislative Yuan in Taipei on Thursday.
The passing of the torch comes at a hopeful time for the baseball league, as it bids farewell to a 31st season, which was the first in the world to start amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and prepares to welcome back a fifth team.
In his vision for the next three years, Tsai said that he would prioritize adding a sixth team to the roster, joining the Uni-President Lions, CTBC Brothers, Fubon Guardians, Rakuten Monkeys and newcomers Wei Chuan Dragons. He also emphasized giving fans a “sense of stability,” as the league is infamous for frequent and sudden changes.
Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chi-mai (陳其邁) earlier this month said that the city was flirting with the idea of reviving baseball, on Saturday confirming that some local firms were showing an interest in becoming sponsors.
Baseball has a storied history in Kaohsiung, but in this case, the fourth time might be the charm.
From 1996, the city hosted the Kaoping Fala until the Taiwan Major League was absorbed by the CPBL in 2003, dissolving all four of the league’s teams.
The La New Bears called Kaohsiung home from 2004 to 2010, but after failing to win local support, relocated to Taoyuan and became the Lamigo Monkeys.
One last team, the EDA Rhinos, took a swing at Kaohsiung in 2013, but after EDA sold the team to Fubon Financial in 2016, their new owner decided to relocate the team to New Taipei City’s Sinjhuang District (新莊) and rebrand it as the Fubon Guardians.
Kaohsiung is also challenged by the inconvenient location of Cheng Ching Lake Field, perhaps contributing to residents’ lack of support, as well as the headache every team faces of finding a corporate sponsor.
Yet despite all of these challenges, the future is looking brighter than ever, for Kaohsiung and the CPBL as a whole.
The league has taken deeper root in the past few years, as teams have settled into home cities, creating a sense of stability and local pride.
The Taiwan Major League’s home-field system was set aside after the CPBL took over, its corporate sponsors preferring the flexibility to move teams to more hospitable locations. Yet this is in direct opposition to what makes sports so meaningful to communities the world over. Teams that are constantly moving and rebranding cannot build fan loyalty, no matter how much money a sponsor throws at the problem.
This year’s Taiwan Series between the Lions and Brothers showed what is possible with franchise stability.
The Tainan-based Lions have kept the same sponsor and home ever since their founding in 1989, while CTBC decided to keep the Brothers name after purchasing the team from the Brother Hotel.
During the series, the stadium was filled to 99.2 percent of capacity. Even Vice President William Lai (賴清德), a Tainan native, and Taichung Mayor Lu Shiow-yen (盧秀燕) joined in the fun with a friendly bet that saw Lu don a lion hat, despite vowing to be a “Brother at heart.”
Lions outfielder Chen Chieh-hsien (陳傑憲) was even shocked at the crowd that came to the team’s victory parade in Tainan, saying: “Yesterday I was worried if people would show up... My teammates and I felt very honored by their devotion and their passion.”
To be successful, a Kaohsiung team must localize. This would involve finding local sponsors that have an interest in the community, as well as establishing a local identity through fan engagement.
As pride in the league is at an all-time high, the CPBL should take advantage of the chance to expand, while also taking care to cultivate the fans it already has.
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