Baseball as Corporate Identity

Seibu Lions: An example of a gigantic and successful Corporate Identity project. Some interesting facts about the history of the Seibu Lions from the Book “You gotta have Wa” by Robert Whiting, 1989.

A giant money machine

Sports sponsoring is an important part of many corporate brands in the West. Baseball has for a long time been the favorite sport of the Japanese people (It has lost a lot of ground to Soccer in recent years) and unlike Western sports clubs most Japanese clubs are 100% owned by big corporations. Seibu Lions belongs to the Seibu group which is most visible with its Seibu department stores all over Japan. The Seibu Baseball Team is a tightly integrated part of the Seibu Corporate Empire.
Back in the 1980s when I was a small kid in Japan the Seibu Lions were for several years very successful. The people either loved them or hated them for being a giant money machine (they still are today).

The Seibu Dome in the Tokyo suburb of Tokorozawa is connected by a Seibu railway line directly to the Seibu store in the centre of Tokyo. There is a Seibu Amusement park next to the stadium, as well as a golf driving court, swimming pool and an artificial Ski slope. It is a huge fun and money-spending place for every age group all dressed up in the Seibu Flag colors.

Whiting writes that every major Seibu win was followed by a massive celebratory sale at Seibu stores throughout Japan. Back in 1987 their owner Yoshiaki Tsutsumi was the richest man in the world and famous for taking interest in his Baseball Team merely for the money.

Near-Religious Discipline as Corporate Culture

According to Whiting Seibu employees were expected to show up at games regularly, even to the extent that their attendance was being recorded. The extreme philosophy of Japanese sportsmanship was like a corporate religion. All Employees were expected to be well-mannered, not to drink and smoke or gamble and to respect their family and the company. Players like employees had to appear always well dressed with a short haircut and no beard or moustache. Mr. Tsutsumi even had the family ties of his employees checked to see if they fit into his company.

The corporate culture of the big Japanese enterprises was incredibly strong on the hand and incredibly narrow on the other hand. You could probably call it Corporate Nationalism. Or compare it to a religious sekt: You live your life for the company and in return it will care for everything you need (including arranged marriages etc.).

Related Links

An American Fan’s site about Japanese baseball