Baseball deal shuts out TV rivals

TOKYO — Pubcaster NHK has hit a home run after three Japanese baseball players were selected to play in Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game July 15 in Chicago, when the best players from the National League take on the best from the American League.

NHK has the live terrestrial rights to the game, which will now be even more popular in baseball-mad Japan thanks to the presence on the AL roster of the Seattle Mariners’ Ichiro Suzuki and Shigetoshi “Shig” Hasegawa and Hideki “Godzilla” Matsui of the New York Yankees.

The fans choose the players and Suzuki collected the most votes, with 2,130,700. This is his third consecutive All-Star Game since his rookie year in 2001.

NHK has held exclusive satellite right to Major League Baseball in Japan since the early 1990s, but it shares terrestrial broadcasting rights with Fuji TV and Tokyo Broadcasting Systems (TBS) under a three-year contract with Japan’s Dentsu ad agency, which handles MLB.

This year NHK won the lottery for terrestrial rights for April and July, while Fuji got the rights for May and August and TBS won June and September.

This means NHK was able to show the opening games of the New York Yankees season, featuring Matsui, former popular slugger of Japan’s Yomiuri Giants, who joined the club in April, as well as the All-Star Game.

NHK is showing 300 MLB games live in full on its terrestrial and satellite channels this year.

The Yankees’ opening games in April drew ratings of more than 10% each, almost double the regular morning shows on NHK terrestrial (except for the 15-minute morning drama serial that normally scores around 20%).

The Japanese auds’ morning ritual of watching MLB began around 1995, when pitcher Hideo Nomo joined the L.A. Dodgers from Japan’s Kintetsu Buffaloes.

Since then, about a dozen Japanese players have joined MLB, with seven of them still active in the U.S.

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