Strike Threatens Japan Baseball
Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE
"Strike Threatens Japan Baseball"
As reported in the article, The Japan Professional Baseball Players Association has announced they will go on strike if the Club Managers give a go ahead to the proposed merger of two teams, the Orix BlueWave and the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes
Baseball had been the favorite pastime for children, especially boys, for more than half a century in Japan. The popularity of the sport, measured in any manner, was arguably at the top, both in terms of a sport being played and watched.
Things began to change as Japan grew to be an affluent society and the people started to look for other leisure activities. But for quite a while there was still enough number of baseball fans to support the professional league. However, the trend of diminishing audience began to become evident pretty much in pace with soccer gradually attracting general popularity, to peak at the occasion of the World Cup held in Japan and Korea in 2002.
During the while, some Japanese baseball players left Japan to join the Major League in the US, the heart of the sport, and their plays were televised into Japan for the fans here to catch glimpses of how the sport is really supposed to be played.
There are twelve teams in Japan's professional baseball, split into leagues, Central and Pacific. The team most popular is the Yomiuri Giants, owned by the Yomiuri Newspaper. In fact, the gap of popularity between the Giants and other teams is so large that it is the only team who could fill the seats in the stadium - any stadium. It is said that every team is eager for a game with the Giants, as it would draw in more spectators even at their home stadiums, and would bring them hefty amount of televising fees unattainable playing with other teams.
Without such schemes adopted in the US Major League, like revenue sharing and luxury tax to keep the competitive balance among the teams, it has been the Giants as the sole winner, around which everything that has to do with professional baseball has been centered. It could have been all right if it were a genuine competition, but in case of baseball, such a state only distracted many fans.
This year's Olympics did not help either. Many sports fans who might have tuned into baseball if there were nothing else watched the Olympics. Indeed, the best 24 players, 2 from each of the 12 professional teams, was the Japan's delegation for the Olympics which won, barely, the bronze medal. The TV viewing rate for the Giant's games in August was 8.7%, the lowest on record where it often topped 20% a few years ago.
There are legal issues involved, also, in the Players Association's announcement for a possible strike.
The right to strike is, as with any civilized jurisdiction, is well established in Japan. But whether the Association is qualified as - thus have the rights of - a labor union in accordance with the Labor Law is still being questioned by some lawyers. There has been a regional court decision in the past indicating that the Association is a union the Law envisages, but apparently there is room for it to be challenged by the Owners. If the Association is considered not as a union under the Labor Law, the right to strike would not exist, which could make it a subject of compensation claims.
Another point is that even if the Association is deemed to be a labor union, there is a question whether the purpose of the strike is within the framework of the Labor Law, which assumes the purpose of a strike to be in demand for improvement of working conditions. Opposing to the proposed merger of two teams fall into this category is unclear. If the court judges it does not, then this would also allow for the owners' claims for compensation on lost revenues from unplayed games.