Korean business conglomerate Booyoung Group on Thursday signed on to launch a new professional baseball team in the southern part of the country.
At a ceremony held in Seoul, Booyoung, which operates 16 affiliates, primarily in construction, announced that it has reached a deal with a consortium of four cities and counties in North Jeolla Province -- Jeonju, Gunsan, Iksan and Wanju -- to found a 10th club in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO).
The KBO's board of directors, including presidents of the nine existing clubs and senior league officials, on Tuesday unanimously approved a plan to expand the league to 10 clubs by as early as 2015.
KBO officials have said they will accept applications and will form an evaluation committee to review proposals. The reviewing process could wrap up by the end of this year, officials have also said.
For the rights to operate a new team, Booyoung will compete with a telecom giant KT, which in November reached a deal with the city of Suwon in Gyeonggi Province to launch a team there.
Suwon and Jeonju had been homes to two now-defunct KBO teams -- the Hyundai Unicorns and the Ssangbangwool Raiders.
Lee Joong-keun, chairman of the group, said North Jeolla Province deserves a team to achieve more regional balance in the KBO.
Currently, four of the nine KBO teams are located in or around Seoul, and Suwon is only about 40 kilometers south of the capital city. Forming a new team in North Jeolla will help expand the sport's base in different parts of the country.
"By launching a 10th baseball team, we at Booyoung would like to contribute to the society in the areas of culture and sports, and help people enjoy fun and vigorous life through sports," Lee said. "We will seek to develop promising players and help professional baseball enjoy prosperity for years to come."
North Jeolla provincial officials said a new stadium with 25,000 seats will be constructed in Jeonju, and it will be leased to Booyoung for 25 years for free. The conglomerate will also retain the naming rights to the new ballpark and will be guaranteed revenues from advertising and concessions.
Last month, Gyeonggi Provincial officials made similar offers to KT when they announced their partnership.
Most KBO teams are owned and operated by large business corporations, such as Samsung, LG and Doosan.
The KBO, which started in 1982, broke the single-season attendance record for the fourth consecutive season this year, and has seen its attendance figures rise in each of the past six seasons. More than 7 million fans went to watch baseball in 2012.
The KBO will welcome in a ninth club, NC Dinos, next year. Proponents of further expansion to 10 teams have argued that having an even number of clubs will reduce scheduling problems, and that the KBO should take advantage of baseball's unprecedented popularity by tapping into new markets.
Opponents have countered that the small pool of young baseball talent in South Korea could dilute the quality of play in the KBO and drive away fans. Some existing clubs were reportedly opposed to the idea, but they gave in earlier this week at their board meeting after the KBO players' association threatened to boycott the annual Golden Glove Awards ceremony.
The KBO began with six teams in 1982 and had expanded to eight by 1991. (Yonhap)