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Rakuten buys Taiwan baseball team, will officially run it next year

2019/09/19 16:00:07

Taipei, Sept. 19 (CNA) Japan-based e-commerce giant Rakuten has reached an agreement with the current owner of Taiwan's professional baseball team the Lamigo Monkeys to start running the six-time local pro-league champions next year, the two sides announced Thursday.

Monkeys General Manager Justin Liu (劉玠廷) said at a press conference that the mother company of the Taoyuan-based team, La New International Corp., has agreed to sell all of its share in running the team to Rakuten.

Through the purchase, Rakuten is scheduled to officially enter Taiwan's Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) next year, making the Tokyo-based company the first foreign company to own a CPBL team since its founding in 1990.

Neither side, however, disclosed the exact amount of the deal.

Despite the transfer of ownership, Liu said, the Japanese side has promised that it will keep all the current administrative staff of the Monkeys and that the team will continue to be based in the northern city.

"Ever since we announced July 3 that the team was up for sale, we have been in close contact with the Japanese company," Liu went on.

He ultimately agreed to the deal because the Japanese company, which offers a wide range of services including e-commerce, fintech, digital content and communications, has pledged to help the Taoyuan-based team and the CPBL as a whole to develop to the next level.

Liu said his company will hold a series of farewell games to mark the last season of the Monkeys' under its ownership after the ongoing 30th CPBL season concludes next month.

The press event was also attended by two Rakuten representatives -- its Asia headquarters CEO Takashi Watanabe and Yoshinori Kawada of Japanese pro baseball team the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles -- which is also owned by the group.

Watanabe told reporters that his company hopes that purchasing the team will help Taiwanese customers become more familiar with Rakuten, which has been operating its Taiwan branch since 2008.

Kawada, meanwhile, said the company, which has being running the Golden Eagles for more than a decade, aims to share the experience with the Monkeys and to Taiwan pro-baseball as a whole.

Although the company will continue to run the team from its Taoyuan base, Watanabe said the new owner will change the team's name, which will be announced later.

Meanwhile, CPBL Commissioner John Wu (吳志揚), who also attended Thursday's press event, said the transfer of ownership will still have to be approved by CPBL board members and the league's other four teams.

Rakuten also operates Japan's biggest Internet bank and has run the Golden Eagles since its formation in 2005.

The Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture-based team won its first and so far only Japan Series Championship in 2013.

The Monkeys has been on sale since July after the current owner said it could no longer afford the financial cost of running the team.

Liu previously disclosed that over the past 16 years, La New has spent NT$100 million (US$3.20 million) annually on the team, a huge burden for a relatively small company.

In contrast, the owners of the four other CPBL teams are some of the biggest companies in Taiwan.

Known for the successful management of its home stadium in Taoyuan, the Monkeys is the most popular team in the CPBL, with the highest average attendance last year -- more than 6,000 per game.

The team has also won six CPBL championships and qualified for this year's playoffs after winning the first half-season title June 25.

(By Joseph Yeh)
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