Asian Athletes Bring Commercial and Community Benefits to MLB Teams

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by Kawoon Kim
Hyun-Jin Ryu from the Los Angeles Dodgers. Image: Flickr user Keith Allison

International baseball players succeeding in Major League Baseball (MLB) in the US typically means a spike in viewers in those players’ home countries. This trend is holding true among baseball fans in South Korea and Japan, as players like Hyun-jin Ryu, Shin-soo Choo, and Yu Darvish are performing well in the US.

Signing an Asian player can be good business for a team, as it often brings new audiences to their stadiums and to their broadcasts. After Ryu transferred to the LA Dodgers from a team in Korea, the number of Korean brands visible in Dodger Stadium noticeably increased. Choco Pies, a popular Korean snack, and Korean beer brand Hite have both become available for purchase in Dodger Stadium since Ryu joined the team.

Not only does the performance of Korean athletes lead to new revenues for Korean brands in the US, but it can also be extremely beneficial to the club’s advertising revenue as it sells ad space, and licenses its broadcast rights to networks in other countries. For instance, the Dodgers recently introduced a Korean language secondary audio feed, available on all game broadcasts during the 2014 season, much to the delight of the many Korean fans who enjoy watching Major League games.

Players from Asia have also been making a positive impact on their adopted communities in the US. In October, Shin-soo Choo, who has played in the big league since his debut in 2005, donated $100,000 for the construction of a Korean Cultural Center in Dallas, where his team, the Texas Rangers, is located. Choo has helped nurture the relationship between Korea and Texas since he first signed with the team. Yu Darvish, a Japanese pitcher also with the Texas Rangers, is also making social contributions, such as by donating US$42,000 to the Jackie Robinson Foundation.

As the number of elite Asian athletes coming to the US increases, these economic and community-level benefits should continue to grow substantially.

Kawoon Kim is an Asan Academy Intern at the East-West Center in Washington.