How can an upstart league become relevant to the masses?
That’s the big question/problem still facing the bj-league as it makes final preparations for its sixth season, which tips off on Oct. 16.
Since Day One, the league has had its hard-core fans, but it remains virtually unknown to the majority of this nation’s residents. That’s both pathetic and capable of being changed.
Blame the league for not having a clear, consistent marketing strategy and a real partnership with the mass media.
Sad but true, the mainstream media practically ignores the bj-league. And the major sports dailies, Sports Graphic Number magazine, as well as TBS, TV Tokyo, Fuji, TV Asahi and NTV do not plan broadcast coverage of the league on a regular basis, while NHK’s coverage is quite limited as well.
On a national scene, that won’t change anytime soon, it says here, unless the league develops broader initiatives to elevate the league into a major player.
In a year from now, the bj-league will have 20 teams, when it welcomes four expansion teams into the fold. That’s a nice big number, but that’s all it is.
In the meantime, here are 20 worthwhile objectives the league should focus on achieving in order to gain a greater acceptance from the average sports fan and develop a necessary longtime rapport — and commitment — from the sporting press:
1. Require each team to get quotes from two to three players after each game and include them with its online report that’s posted on the league website.
(As has been the case in recent seasons, the league includes a short comment from both head coaches after a game, but never any player quotes. Without the players’ thoughts and much-needed perspective, fans and the media have almost no chance of truly getting to know the players.)
2. Hold twice-monthly press teleconferences with the league’s coaches, using technology such as Skype. On one of those days, for instance, the Eastern Conference coaches can each speak to the media about their team and the league as a whole for 10-15 minutes. On the other day, the Western Conference sideline supervisors can participate.
(By getting coaches intimately involved in a nationwide press event, the league is raising its profile exponentially. In addition, coaches’ comments should be published as a complete transcript and posted on the same day on the league’s website, in English and Japanese, each time. This, too, will help educate the fans and the media about what coaches actually think about the league’s players, about their team’s development and about the league’s pluses and minuses.)
3. Require that each team produce a highlight video of its games each season. The videos can become hot collectors’ items, as well as useful marketing tools for the teams.
4. Have one player per week participate in an hourlong online chat with fans. These chats can be hosted by the league and take place on the league website.
For foreign players, their chat sessions would take place with translators, who can type efficiently and quickly in English and Japanese.
(Again: It’s all about getting fans to feel connected to the teams and the players. Fan-friendly events include more than dozens of clinics and shopping center meet-and-greet sessions.)
5. Establish a Rookie Player of the Month award. Have each of the league’s head coaches vote on it. This is another way of getting more publicity for new players and giving journalists a simple notebook item to include in their reports.
6. Organize a season-long campaign for fans — co-sponsored by a national company — to suggest nicknames for as many of the league’s players as possible. Post the nicknames on the league website.
The obvious benefit?
It can be done for free. In English and Japanese, these monikers would give added personality to those who suit up and play basketball and create added interest in stars, role players, youngsters and seasoned veterans.
(After the season, award selected fans prizes based on the most original, popular and clever nicknames.)
7. Host team media days in each of the league’s home cities. These events would be required for all players who are signed a week before the season begins.
Each head coach would also be there to give local media organizations a chance to take team photographs, individual portraits and conduct in-depth interviews.
8. Like similar policies in place for the NBA, the NFL, the NHL and Major League Baseball, the bj-league should require all teams to open their locker rooms 10-15 minutes after each game to enable reporters to have access for interviews. Each team should also be required to have one or two players and the head coach in the press interview room no later than 15 minutes after a game ends.
(The league needs to begin enforcing a strict interview schedule after games, as reporters are hustling to make deadlines and have often had to wait for more than 45 minutes for a coach to address the media in the past. This is simply unacceptable. Win or lose, a coach has a duty to speak to the media in a prompt fashion.)
9. Each team’s public relations staff should write one player feature per month for a league-produced online magazine/game-style program. The pieces can be simple Q&As or longer projects.
(By involving all teams in the process, the league’s teams will develop closer ties and greater cooperation among themselves and the league office.)
10. Host a preseason banquet with Tokyo’s major newspapers sports editors and the department heads of the domestic news wires (Kyodo News, and Jiji Press, for instance). Bring the league’s board members, including commissioner Toshimitsu Kawachi. Thank the press for their past coverage and ask them for more thorough coverage in the future, citing the fact the league is the only one in this nation with regular expansion over the past decade and how local communities would benefit from real coverage of their hometown athletes.)
11. Expand All-Star rosters to 15 players for the Eastern Conference and 15 for the Western Conference. By adding players — there have been 10 on each side for the past four All-Star Games — the league is helping educate the public about a broader segment of its players.
12. Increase the regular-season awards to two Best Five teams, rather than the customary one that is in place. (An all-domestic team, an all-import team and an all-defensive team would also be highly recommended categories.)
13. Either as part of the voting system in place — which currently includes players and coaches — or as a separate category, organize a nationwide media voting process for the aforementioned awards.
(This gives the media a voice in the process and increases the likelihood of major news organizations reporting on these awards.)
14. Form a partnership with the NBA to bring to the league one ex-NBA player as an assistant coach on each of the teams. This would provide added name recognition to the league and the teams and would form the backbone of a marketing campaign.
15. Ensure that each of the teams play at least 33 percent of their home games on weekdays in upcoming seasons. This would add a more diverse makeup to the fan base, attracting many people who previously attend zero or very few contests.
16. Transform the league’s website into a fully bilingual portal, giving a greater audience a chance to become informed about what’s going around the league.
(Highly qualified bilingual candidates could be found at a number of job fairs and through organizations like The Japan Foundation.)
17. Improve BJTV statistical archives, so when a game is finished, the quarter-by-quarter stats are saved, giving fans and the media a chance to compare and analyze what took place in the first quarter, second quarter and so on.
18. Develop real-time uploading policy for the teams’ and league website, ensuring that major news will be uploaded in both places at the same time. More often than not, a team’s latest player transaction, injury or noteworthy news appears on its website a day or two before it appears on the league site.
In this day and age of instant information, the league needs to find a way to do this and eliminate the need for reporters and fans to scour all of the team sites for basic news.)
19. Ask each team to hold a monthly — later expanded to twice-monthly — press luncheon, with a rotating cast of players, as well as the head coach and a few of the organization’s officials in attendance. Little by little, these events, highly popular for U.S. college sports teams, would help improve the relationship between team officials and the media and require both parties to have a greater role in the news-gathering process.
And again, publish the luncheon’s Q&A transcripts on the team’s website, providing story and background material for print and broadcast journalist and fans, too.
(Selected fans could win a limited number of seats to attend the event. Teams could have a raffle ticket drawing for these seats in the weeks before the luncheon.)
20. Develop a news archive directory on its website of past and current articles from newspapers, magazines and blogs, enabling anyone to see a broad cross section of information about the league from a number of sources.
(Post the links on the site, so they can be easily accessed within a few seconds.)