SBJ/March 27 - April 2, 2006/This Weeks News

Japan wants final, but doubts persist

News seen and heard at the semifinals and final of the World Baseball Classic in San Diego on March 18-20:

The Tokyo Dome filled for Team Japan’s games this
month, but Chinese Taipei and China did not attract
as many fans as the home club did.
As planning for the 2009 WBC begins next month, Japanese officials would love to get semifinal and final-round action to Tokyo as opposed to the first-round pool play they hosted this time that struggled to draw fans. Japan made a push to get a 2009 finals commitment from MLB and the players’ association during protracted negotiations last year to secure the country’s participation in the 2006 event. More such requests will arrive now that Japan is the defending champion of the tournament, but the idea will not have strong support.

“Japan has to establish they can draw a non-Japanese audience,” said Gene Orza, MLB Players Association chief operating officer and a key figure on the WBC steering committee. “I have no good feelings on the ability to draw over there if it’s, say, Cuba versus Mexico in the final.”

The six games in Tokyo averaged 16,827 each, with the three games not involving the Japanese team combining to sell 13,695 tickets in the 55,000-seat Tokyo Dome. MLB President Bob DuPuy cited the minimal draws in Japan, particularly a trio of day games there, as the dominant reason the tournament failed to meet organizers’ overall attendance goal of 800,000.

NO U.S. MEANS NO-SHOWS: Ticket sales were not an issue in San Diego for the semifinals and final, with the games selling out and MLB establishing a secondary ticket market for the three games with the assistance of the Padres. No-shows were a problem, though, particularly during the Saturday semifinals, with the number of unused seats extending well into the thousands.

“I think that has a lot to do with the absence of the Americans,” Orza said. “A lot of travel to this event was predicated on expectations the U.S. would be here.”

A PROPER POUR: MLB sales executives entertained representatives from most of its major corporate sponsors in San Diego, but they were forced to bring in bottles of Pepsi and Anheuser-Busch products to serve their guests. Pepsi and A-B are two of baseball’s biggest corporate backers, but Petco Park’s soda pouring rights are controlled by Coca-Cola, while Miller beer is typically served in the ballpark’s luxury suites.

The official DVD includes some emotional
clubhouse footage with the Cuban team.

SEE A GAME, BUY A CONDO: San Diego’s Petco Park provides a cautionary tale for Washington, St. Louis, Oakland and other markets developing or seeking new ballparks. Rather than struggling to promote adjacent stadium development, the stadium has actually succeeded too much too soon. The lure of the ballpark, along with the once red-hot but now rapidly cooling California real estate market, has created a glut of downtown condominiums within easy walking distance of the venue. Prices on those condos are now falling by the tens of thousands of dollars, with some developers offering free luxury SUVs to purchasers. WBC fans visiting the popular Gaslamp Quarter found several builders touting their inventory with salesmen on corners with rotating signs and sandwich boards.

WBC DVD COMING SOON: MLB plans to produce a DVD from the WBC, with the MLB Productions compilation tentatively set for public release next month. The DVD will feature footage from Cuba’s clubhouse before its semifinal win over the Dominican Republic in which emotional letters from Cuban fans were read to the players. ESPN2 is scheduled to air a preview of the DVD at 9 p.m. ET today.

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