The two most popular sports in Taiwan are basketball and baseball. Every time a school bell rings signaling the start of lunch hour or end of classes, you will see a rush of kids to the basketball court to get in some practice time. Sales of basketball clothing and shoes modeled after top NBA players are hot sellers here. Baseball is also quite established with the local Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL), featuring six teams, the winner of which goes on to play in the Asia Series competing against teams from Japan, South Korea and China.
One major difference between many Asian sporting leagues and their Western counterparts, is that in the former, teams are owned and named after corporations, rather than cities. While each team does have a regional market, home teams aren’t always played there. The current 6 teams in the CPBL are the Elephants, Whales, Bears, Cobras, Bulls and Lions. While interest in this league has had its highs and lows (due to a few game fixing scandals that emerged), interest in baseball as a whole has been reignited in the past few years, when the New York Yankees baseball team signed Taiwanese pitcher Chien Ming Wang to be one of their starters.
Since then, Wang hasn’t looked back, turning into one of the premier pitchers in the game. This has caused a huge fan base to develop in Taiwan, not only in Wang, but in the Yankees organization as a whole. Yankees games are televised live and repeated at other times of the day with Chinese commentating. How the Yankees fared in their last match is included as part of the sports wrap up in local news. When Wang is pitching, it isn’t uncommon to see the game on multiple channels as well as televised on big screens in public settings (for games that take place early morning Taiwan time). Wang’s achievements usually make the headlines in all newspapers, recording how he fared in the previous day’s game. Indeed, Wang has become an ambassador for the sport in Taiwan, and his trips back to the island draw a media circus. His image is used in advertising all over the place, selling everything from McDonald’s hamburgers to HP printers.
It can be expected that this kind of excitement shown towards trend setting athletes such as Wang in Taiwan, and Yao Ming in China will prompt scores of new kids to want to follow in the footsteps of their idols. I can’t imagine what the atmosphere here will be like years from now when there are multiple teams with multiple Asian stars leading them!