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How can a baseball team make money with a $49-million rent bill?

It can't, of course — which is why Japanese pro teams are having a hard time making it these days, despite strong fan support. Pro baseball in Japan is facing the same economic issues facing American teams, and teams are retrenching; Bobby Valentine, for instance, is basically being laid off as Chiba cuts costs.

Pro baseball in Japan is rarely profitable; with teams playing in privately financed venues and paying through the nose for the privilege (the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks pay 4.8 billion yen, or $49 million, annually in rent, for example), virtually every team starts in the hole and stays there.

Normally that's OK: teams are owned by large conglomerates who take the loss on a baseball team to offset other profits, writing it off as a marketing expense. (Witness the aforementioned Fukuoka Softbank Hawks: Softbank is a commercial giant with cell-phone and banking/investment divisions). But in these bad economic times, corporations aren't as eager to subsidize money-losing divisions, and so teams are retrenching. The Chiba Lotte Hawks apparently are parting ways with their high-profile (and well-paid) managed, Bobby Valentine, in the interest of improving the bottom line .

Currently there are 12 teams in two Japanese major leagues. And while no teams seems to be in imminent danger of collapse, there are plenty of warning signs on the horizon.

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