Baseball a hit in Japan

WBC features top top Japanese, MLB players

TOKYO -- Saturday's clash of Asian baseball heavyweights Japan and South Korea in the World Baseball Classic scored a 37.8% rating, providing a lift to broadcasters suffering from falling viewer numbers for the domestic league.

Japan, the defending WBC champion, trounced Olympic gold medalists Korea 14-2 at a sold-out Tokyo Dome. The opening game of the WBC, Japan's defeat of China on March 5, racked up a 28.2% rating.

The 37.8% rating for the South Korea game was higher than for any soccer match in Japan over the last two years. Broadcasts of Central and Pacific League games in Japan have been losing ground to both soccer and Major League Baseball in recent years.

Even audience share for home games of the Yomiuri Giants, Japan's equivalent of the Yankees, have regularly fallen below 10% recently. Nippon Television Network Corp. reduced its broadcasts this year to 26 out of the Giants' 72 games this year on its main terrestrial channel. All games will still be available on its satellite channels. The Yomiuri media conglomerate owns both the Giants and NTV.

"It's incredible that NTV won't broadcast the majority of Giants' home games this season, when one of the reasons for the channel's existence was to promote the baseball team," an industry insider said.

The WBC has given Japanese fans a rare chance to see players like the Seattle Mariners' Ichiro Suzuki and Daisuke "Dice-K" Matsuzaka of the Red Sox, on home soil. More than 40,000 fans turned up to watch the Japan team train in the lead up to the WBC.

When Japan defeated Cuba 10-6 in the final of the inaugural WBC in 2006, it drew a 43.4% audience rating.
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