Entrepreneur Mark Cuban, who ranks among the 100 richest Americans, is an avid basketball fan. In the 1980s he was selling computer software in Dallas, Texas and unable to watch basketball games played by his alma mater, Indiana University. This led him to develop in the 1990s a service called Audionet which enabled sports broadcasts to be heard via the Internet. He eventually sold the company and became a multi-millionaire. In 2000, when he was just 42, Cuban bought the NBA underdog team Dallas Mavericks for US$285 million.
Cuban is different from other U.S. sports team owners, such as George Steinbrenner of the New York Yankees and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who take an authoritarian approach. Cuban attends almost all of the Maverick's games dressed in a casual T-shirt and jeans, and sits next to the team rather than in a private box. He gets so wrapped up in the games that he was once fined $200,000 for storming onto the court to protest a referee's decision. His passion and investments helped to build the Mavericks into a powerhouse squad that now wins some 70 percent of their games and is worth $2.8 billion.
In 1991, Nintendo, the world's top computer game maker, acquired the Major League Baseball team Seattle Mariners, which was on the verge of bankruptcy. Seattle fans welcomed the acquisition by the wealthy company and the Mariners were able to stage a comeback. Rakuten, Japan's largest online shopping mall operator, started its own professional baseball team and made more than 100 million yen in profits in its first year. Japanese software giant Softbank, led by Korean-Japanese Masayoshi Son, also has its own pro baseball team. Softbank is the Japanese partner of Korean game software maker NCsoft.
NCsoft CEO Kim Taek-jin, an ardent baseball supporter, is about to introduce Korea's ninth professional baseball team. Earlier this week the Korea Baseball Organization selected NCsoft as the preferred bidder for the creation of the new team. Changwon city in South Gyeongsang Province, where the team will be based, welcomed the news saying it will spend W10 billion (US$1=W1,117) to remodel an existing stadium. The city also vowed to invest another W300 billion to build a new stadium by 2014, which is when NCsoft will join the premier league. CEO Kim said, "I'd be happy if I can provide something fun for people to enjoy offline as well."
Strictly speaking, Korean professional baseball teams cannot be considered professional since most of them are not profitable. Major businesses either acquired teams or created their own merely for promotional reasons, so they can stomach losses of as much as W10 billion as marketing costs. NCsoft is also being criticized by some for attempting to overcome negative views about the video gaming industry by forming its own pro baseball team. But such a passive approach will make it impossible to win over the hearts of baseball fans. We hope that Kim's love of the sport and his vision as a hugely successful entrepreneur will breathe new life into professional baseball here.
By Chosun Ilbo columnist Oh Tae-jin