Why do tycoons visit ballparks
By Kim Tae-gyu
Tycoons of Korean conglomerates and their family members are hardly seen in public. But there seems to be an easy way to observe the reclusive figures ― at ballparks.
Last weekend, Samsung Electronics President Lee Jae-yong visited the Mokdong Stadium in Seoul together with his children to watch the Samsung Lions play the Nexen Heroes.
It marked the second time for the son of Samsung Group leader Lee Kun-hee to watch a game live this month as the 43-year-old also went to a Lions game on May 11.
The news caused a stir because the heir apparent of Korea’s No. 1 chaebol headed for the ballpark despite just wrapping up a demanding eight-day business trip in Europe with his father.
Lee is not the only chaebol member who has been frequenting ballparks _ Hanwha Chairman Kim Seung-youn and Doosan Corp. Chairman Park Yong-maan are also great fans of the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO).
Kim and Park appeared at the Jamsil Baseball Stadium on May 16 and May 18 respectively but for different reason ― the former rooted for the Hanwha Eagles while the latter cheered on the Doosan Bears.
SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won is also known as an avid supporter of the SK Wyverns and has been to the team’s playoff games over the past few years.
LG Electronics CEO Koo Bon-joon is also a big baseball fan who has a deep understanding of the game, which has become a national pastime here of late.
Baseball and management
Some experts point out that there are a few good reasons for chief executives to love baseball because the sport can be linked with the management of conglomerates.
``Unlike other sports, the strategies of managers and players’ ability to follow them are very important in baseball and this is akin to managing firms to some extent,’’ professor Kim Do-kyun at Kyung Hee University said.
``Data is very important in baseball. In addition, it is a mental game as much as it is a physical one. The unique characteristics of the sport seem to draw the top management.’’
Samsung Group’s de facto owner Lee Kun-hee has stressed that some of baseball’s spirit can be applied to management.
After the Lions won the KBO title last year, he said that the team play and chemistry as well as the self-sacrificing spirit of the catchers should be benchmarked in the business.
By contrast, some do not put great significance on the frequent appearances of senior executives at the stadiums ― they think that they are just people with an interest in the sport.
``You do not have to be so serious about it. They watch baseball because they want to do, just as many other people do so in line with the rising popularity of the KBO,’’ said a professor at a Seoul university.
Since its debut in 1982, the number of spectators watching KBO has been rose steadily for the next decade, but after peaking at 5.4 million in 1995, the figure more than halved in the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis to 2.3 million in 2004.
People started to return to the stadiums in the late 2000s when the annual numbers at the turnstiles approached 6 million for the first time and the figure jumped to 6.8 million last year.
A match-rigging scandal shook the sport in the off-season, but the number of fans at ballparks is up 20 percent this year from 2011.
The KBO initially set this year’s goal at 7 million spectators and the target is expected to be easily achieved as the number passed 2 million this month.
As the KBO has only completed around a quarter of the regular season games, some even project that the annual figure for spectators could reach an unprecedented level of more than 8 million.