In a crushing double blow to the bj-league’s credibility, BS Fuji and Gaora gave up or reduced planned televised coverage of regular-season games after the 2011-12 season. The matter was essentially handled as a secret by the league office, which made no formal announcement about the issue.
Instead, the league has quietly been promoting BJTV, which has live webcasts of all league games online, but without announcers. The lack of commentators takes away a major element to each webcast, giving fans no analysis or insight about the players or strategies as the contests unfold.
And in a league starving to increase its fan base and become a major player on the nation’s sports scene, alongside established leagues like Nippon Professional Baseball and the J. League, this is a major problem.
“Without national television a professional league has an impossible task,” a veteran hoop observer who closely follows pro leagues spanning the globe told The Japan Times. “How can potential sponsors justify any partnership that lacks national exposure?
“Certainly the bj-league can survive as a minor sports league, which will require major cost-cutting measures, but the financial success of any professional league requires a strong national TV presence that drives increased fan awareness, sponsorship and any possible growth . . . or, in this case, eventual survival.”
Indeed, the league is now at a major crossroads. This crisis could mark the beginning of the end of the league as a viable long-term business.
A Gaora spokesperson told The Japan Times on Tuesday that the cable TV channel and the league could not agree to terms for a new contract after last season.
BS Fuji, meanwhile, declined to reveal its bj-league TV schedule for the 2012-13 season during a Tuesday phone conversation. But Akio Yamada, who works in the BS Fuji public relations department, said that “the station is going to show games later this season, but has yet to decide what games and when.
“We will set them depending on how other programs are settled.”
One wouldn’t consider the above comments a ringing endorsement for a pro league with 21 teams and ample opportunities to show games every week.
In past years, both stations released to the media their planned TV schedules before the season began. BS Fuji, by the way, aired its first bj-league game on Jan. 27, 2007, the inaugural All-Star Game in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture.
League spokesman Akihiro Ejima acknowledged the TV contracts had expired, and said the league wants to find new TV partners.
By losing both of its national TV partners, both of which have been with the bj-league for several years, it enters the great unknown as a circuit without a major presence or promotional vehicle to gain much-needed recognition around the country.
While the bj-league has expanded continuously since its inception in 2005 with six teams, it has not had success in getting consistent media coverage at the national level, particularly among major TV stations and newspapers.
According to the league guidebook, Gaora and BS Fuji had a combined 23 scheduled telecasts last season,while in 2009-10 they planned to televised 31 games between them.