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Japanese may follow Matsuzaka to Boston

But expected torrent of tourists could find it hard to snag tickets

Tourists from Osaka react to two geishas in Boston to promote Japan. By one estimate, a Japanese tourist in Boston spends $3,700, on average. (DAVID L. RYAN/GLOBE STAFF/FILE 2000)

The Red Sox spent more than $100 million to bring Dice-K to Boston.

They didn't know they may get 20,000 Japanese tourists to boot.

That's how many more visitors Tourism Massachusetts, a nonprofit marketing group, estimates will come to Boston annually to watch Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka in a Red Sox uniform.

They're also expected to spend $75 million annually here.

That's a bit more than the $52 million the Red Sox are paying Matsuzaka in salary, or the $51.1 million they had to pay to his former team.

Hoteliers say they're already getting calls from Japanese tour operators and travel agents who are inquiring about the availability of rooms -- a good sign that occupancy and room rates will rise during baseball season, typically Boston's busiest.

"He's going to be a huge draw for Boston, both internationally and domestically," said Dick Mason , general manager of the 551-room Omni Parker House hotel. "How are you going to pass up the opportunity to see a pitcher who's going to be paid $52 million?"

Many Japanese fans might have to do just that.

Even against run-of-the-mill opponents, Red Sox games usually sell out before the season starts, making it unlikely tourists who make the trek from Japan will get into Fenway Park, unless they buy from scalpers or over the Internet.

That's already an issue for Michiyo Suzuki, who runs Tour Operation Services in the Back Bay. Japanese travel agents have flooded her business with calls since speculation about Matsuzaka began last month, but she has had to disappoint many: She can't get enough tickets to accommodate the large tour groups they want to bring here.

"That's my headache," she said. "Even though I have 100 people, it's impossible to get 100 tickets."

Don Vaccaro , chief executive of Vernon, Conn.-based TicketLiquidator.com, said it won't be impossible to get tickets to Sox games, but an influx of Japanese fans could drive up prices on sites like his, one of several that connect ticket buyers and sellers on the so-called secondary market.

"Diehard Japanese tourists will come to Boston to see Daisuke, stay for a couple of days, and buy tickets for a few games until they know which one he'll play in," he said.

If Matsuzaka helps the Red Sox back to the playoffs, it could lead to higher ticket prices next year, he said.

Exactly how much of a tourism bump Boston gets from Matsuzaka could be a matter of how it's measured.

The visitor and spending predictions from Tourism Massachusetts rely heavily on data from Seattle, where the Seattle Mariners lured a Japanese baseball star of their own several years ago.

But Boston traditionally has a much smaller contingent of tourists from Japan -- roughly 30,000 last year, out of about 2.3 million international visitors -- than cities on the Pacific Coast.

What's more, Logan International Airport lacks a nonstop flight to Tokyo.

Tourism Massachusetts' president, William MacDougall, said interest in Matsuzaka should help Boston on both fronts. His group is launching a Japanese-language website, and its marketing office in Tokyo has been handling requests for information since the Red Sox began negotiating with Matsuzaka.

Even a few Japanese tourists could have a big impact, because they spend $3,700 on average here, more than most other groups, MacDougall said.

"They drop a lot of money," he said.

Keith Reed can be reached at reed@globe.com.

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