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KT approved as owner of expansion baseball club

Jan. 17, 2013 - 10:22 By Korea Herald

KT, South Korea`s largest fixed line operator and No. 2 mobile carrier, was approved as the owner of a new professional baseball team on Thursday. (Yonhap News)

KT, South Korea‘s largest fixed line operator and No. 2 mobile carrier, was approved as the owner of a new professional baseball team on Thursday.

At their general meeting, owners of the existing nine clubs in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) put their stamp of approval on the expansion plan put together by KT and the city of Suwon, the provincial capital of Gyeonggi, located south of Seoul.

It was the last administrative hurdle for KT, which last week drew more favorable reviews for its application from a group of independent evaluators than its rival Booyoung Group, a local business conglomerate.

Booyoung had partnered with North Jeolla Province, with the latter’s provincial capital Jeonju as the proposed home of the new team. After KT edged out Booyoung in the evaluation stage, subjecting KT‘s plan to owners’ approval was regarded as a mere bureaucratic formality because the team representatives were unlikely to override the results of the evaluation.

KT‘s team, which has not yet been named, will be the league’s second expansion club in three seasons. This year, the NC Dinos, playing out of Changwon, South Gyeonggang Province, will join the KBO as the ninth team, after getting approved by the KBO owners in 2011 and spending 2012 in the Futures League.

The KT ball club will enter the annual rookie draft this summer and will play in the second-tier competition called the Futures League in 2014. It will then join the top flight KBO in 2015. Just as the Dinos did, the KT team is expected to receive prior picks at the draft table.

In South Korea, most professional sports teams are owned and operated by private companies. The current corporate owners in the KBO include major conglomerates such as Doosan, LG and Samsung.

Suwon had served as the home of the now-defunct Hyundai Unicorns, which played there from 2000 to 2007 and won the KBO championships in 2000, 2003 and 2004.

Despite those championship seasons, the Unicorns had trouble filing the stadium. They ranked dead last in home attendance in each of their final three seasons, barely averaging more than 2,000 fans per game.

Incidentally, when the Unicorns folded in late 2007, KT had emerged as a strong candidate to take over the franchise. But the company‘s plan was rejected by its outside directors, who cited excessive costs to enter the KBO.

The Unicorns eventually became the Woori Heroes, under the sponsorship of the local firm Woori Tobacco, and later were renamed the Nexen Heroes, after their new sponsor, Nexen Tire.

Baseball’s popularity has skyrocketed since the Unicorns’ demise. The KBO, which started in 1982, has broken its own single-season attendance record in each of the past four seasons and drew nearly 7.2 million fans last year. Also in 2012, the KBO posted a record 35 billion won in baseball-related revenue from television contracts, corporate sponsorships and merchandise sales.

The spectacular turnaround has been attributed to South Korea’s success at international events -- winning the gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and taking second place at the 2009 World Baseball Classic.

Following the Dinos‘ inception, there have been calls to immediately add a 10th team to give the KBO an even number of clubs, so that the league wouldn’t face scheduling conflicts.

Supporters of an expansion have said the KBO should capitalize on baseball‘s unprecedented popularity by reaching into new markets.

Opponents of the idea have said spreading South Korea’s small pool of young baseball talent among more teams may water down the quality of play in the KBO, which may lead to fewer fans in the long run.

Some of the current KBO teams had opposed an expansion for that very reason. The league‘s board of directors, which includes KBO team presidents, had at first refused to even discuss an expansion, before giving in last month after the KBO players’ association threatened to boycott the annual Golden Glove Awards ceremony unless they moved forward with the expansion talks. (Yonhap News)

<관련 한글 기사>

KT, KBO 최종승인! 10구단 시대 '활짝'

한국야구위원회(KBO)가 17일 서울 소공동 롯데호텔에서 총회를 열고 경기도 수원시를 연고로 한 거대 통신기업 KT를 프로야구 10구단 창단 기업으로 최종 승인했다.

구본능 KBO 총재를 비롯한 9개 구단 구단주(대행)은 이날 만장일치로 KT의 10구단 창단을 의결했다.

KBO 최고 의사결정 기구인 총회에서 3분의 2이상 찬성표가 나오면 신규 구단 창단이 결정된다.

구단주(대행) 중 유일하게 총회에 불참한 김택진 NC 다이노스 구단주는 구본능 KBO 총재의 뜻에 따르겠다고 서면으로 의사를 밝혔다.

도전 5년 만에 프로야구에 입성한 KT는 곧 창단에 착수할 전망이다.

KT는 가입금으로 30억원, 야구발전기금으로 200억원, 예치금으로 100억원을 KBO 에 낸다.

예치금은 KT가 5년 이내 2만5천석 이상 구장을 확보하지 못하고 같은 기간 내 야구단 운영과 관련한 중대 위기에 처할 경우를 대비해 KBO가 건 안전장치다. 

가입금은 KBO 총회 승인일로부터 30일 이내, 예치금은 90일 이내, 야구발전기금은 1년 이내 내면 된다.

KT는 2007년 말 파산한 현대 유니콘스를 인수해 프로야구에 뛰어들 계획이었으나 막판 사외이사의 반대에 부딪혀 뜻을 접었다.  

KT가 올해 공식 창단하면 9번째 구단 NC처럼 내년 퓨처스리그(2군리그)에서 기량을 쌓은 뒤 창단 2년째인 2015년 1군에 합류한다.  

KBO는 10구단 유치를 놓고 전북-부영, 수원-KT가 치열한 경쟁을 벌이자 조직 외부인사 22명으로 평가위원회를 구성해 공정한 검증에 나섰다.

평가위원들은 시장성과 구단 운영 지속 능력을 따져 수원-KT에 높은 점수를 줬고, KBO는 11일 각 구단 대표로 이뤄진 이사회에 평가위원회 보고서를 제출했다.

KT는 야구발전기금으로 200억원을 내겠다고 밝혀 80억 원을 적은 부영을 따돌렸다.

10구단 유치 도시와 기업으로 수원-KT가 사실상 결정된 상황에서 프로야구 구단주들은 총회에서 이견 없이 이를 추인했다.

신규 구단 창단을 승인하기 위한 총회가 열리기는 2008년 현대를 인수한 투자집단 센테니얼 인베스트먼트의 히어로즈 창단 이후 5년 만이다.

KBO는 규약에 적힌 신생 구단 지원책에 따라 KT의 창단을 도울 방침이다.

KT는 2년간 드래프트에서 신인선수 2명 우선 지명권을 얻고 각 구단에서 보호선수(20명)를 제외한 1명씩을 데려올 수 있다.

1군에 가세하면 2년간 외국인 선수를 3명 보유하고 같은 기간 1군 엔트리 등록 인원을 다른 팀보다 1명 증원할 수 있다.

현재 1군 엔트리 인원은 26명이다. (연합뉴스)