The Seoul Metropolitan Government on Thursday laid out a plan to move one of three Seoul-based Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) clubs in 2013 to a dome currently under construction in Gocheok-dong, located in the southwestern part of the capital. The dome, which will be the first of its kind in the nation, is scheduled to be finished by late next year.
View of the new baseball dome stadium under construction in Gocheok-dong, Seoul. (Photo courtesy of Seoul Metropolitan Government)
Of the eight KBO teams that competed in 2012, the Doosan Bears and the LG Twins play their home games at Jamsil Stadium in southern Seoul with 26,000 seats. The Nexen Heroes are based at the 14,000-seat Mokdong Stadium with no outfield seats in western Seoul.
Both stadiums are properties of Seoul, and the teams pay the metropolitan government annual fees for their use.
Officials from the KBO and the three clubs on Friday said Seoul came up with the relocation plan without discussing the matter with them.
"The city never came to us to talk about this," said Yang Hae-young, the secretary general of the KBO. "These Seoul teams pay to play at Jamsil and Mokdong, and the city seems to think it can do whatever it wants to do with the three clubs. I will have to sit down with general managers of the three teams over this matter."
The construction work for the dome in Gocheok-dong began in February 2009. With monsoon seasons constantly forcing postponements of KBO games and affecting late-season schedules, baseball fans and officials had said a dome in South Korea was long overdue.
The initial plan was to build it as a half-dome stadium. Later in 2009, however, then Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon modified the plan to make it a complete dome, at the height of baseball's popularity in the country following South Korea's runner-up finish at the 2009 World Baseball Classic (WBC).
The change pushed back the expected completion date from summer of 2012 to late 2013, and also resulted in extra costs. The budget for the construction is about 202 billion won (US$186 million). The new dome will have about 22,000 seats, Seoul officials have said.
The KBO teams in Seoul said they have no desire to relocate because the new stadium isn't as accessible for fans as their current homes. They also argued that Seoul is asking a pro team to move in to help make the stadium profitable after the city failed to find ways to do it.
For the Twins and the Bears, the dome would actually have fewer seats than Jamsil.
"We have absolutely no intention of moving to the dome," an official with the Twins said. "We sell out many games on weekends and have to turn away a lot of fans, and there's no reason we should move to a smaller ballpark."
The LG official noted that parking and public transportation at the new stadium won't be as accessible for fans as Jamsil. Compared to more than 2,000 parking spots at Jamsil, the dome is expected to have a parking lot that can hold about 500 vehicles, which it will share with a major discount retailer that will open in the vicinity.
The dome is about a 15-minute walk from Gocheok Station on the Seoul subway grid, while Jamsil is only a stone's throw from Sports Complex Station.
An official with the Bears also said a move to the dome isn't feasible. He noted that when the city first broke ground for the new stadium, it was to build a venue mostly for amateur baseball, a ballpark to replace the historic Dongdaemun Park in central Seoul that was torn down in 2008.
"Pro baseball clubs thrive on a large fan base, and Gocheok-dong isn't a big or an accessible market," the Doosan official said. "(The relocation plan) is not something we find acceptable, and LG and Nexen probably feel the same way about the proposal."
The Heroes would be moving to a bigger ballpark if they chose to relocate, but a team official said they have only just settled down in Mokdong, and they would rather stay put.
An artist's rendition of the new baseball dome stadium in Gocheok-dong, Seoul. (Yonhap file photo)
The Heroes joined the KBO in 2008 in place of the Hyundai Unicorns, which folded under financial hardships. With Mokdong Stadium nestled among apartment complexes, the Heroes in their earlier seasons drew complaints of noise from local residents.
The team official said, however, that the Heroes have worked hard to reach out to the people in the community and that they have only started to be embraced by them. After the end of this season, about 4,000 Mokdong residents signed a petition to oppose a possible relocation of the Heroes to another part of Seoul, according to the official.
The Heroes' home attendance has soared from about 258,000 in their inaugural season in 2008 to more than 441,000 this year.
"We've tried our best over the past five seasons to settle down and call Mokdong our home," the official said. "Our plan is to stay here for the next five, 10, 20 years."
Faced with the team's opposition, a Seoul city official said an alternative plan would have teams play in the dome only on rainy days.
According to the KBO, 77 games of 532 possible games were postponed due to rain in 2011, and 73 games suffered the same fate in 2012. In case of rainouts, teams play makeup games in September and October, the final two months of the regular season.
They played 133 games each in 2012. The expansion NC Dinos will join the KBO next year. The number of total games will rise from 532 to 576, but the number of games per team will be cut from 133 to 128.