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J. League mulling huge calendar shakeup

Kyodo

The Japanese soccer calendar could be due for a huge shakeup in 2014, with the Emperor’s Cup final being moved to December and the J. League possibly going back to the two-stage system it abandoned nine years ago.

The Japan Football Association decided on Monday to organize next season’s Emperor’s Cup final — traditionally held on New Year’s Day — on Dec. 13 to give national team players ample rest for the 2015 Asian Cup in Australia, which starts Jan. 9.

The game will also be moved away from Tokyo’s National Stadium, whose rebuilding for the 2020 Olympics will have begun by then. The venue, which must have a minimum capacity of 30,000, will be decided later this year.

It will be the first time since 1968 that the Emperor’s Cup final will not be held on Jan. 1. The match will be moved back to New Year’s Day for the season starting in 2015, however.

Around the J. League, there are calls to revert to the two-stage system with hopes of driving up attendance and soliciting new sponsors.

The idea will be on the table at a June meeting of the league’s executive committee, made up of the 40 club presidents in J1 and J2.

The last championship series held in 2004 between Urawa Reds and Yokohama F. Marinos drew more than 120,000 fans over two legs with impressive television ratings.

But the system was dropped the following year because the teams with the most points were not always rewarded. For three straight years from 1999 to 2001, Shimizu S-Pulse, Kashiwa Reysol and Jubilo Iwata won the most points but were not crowned champions.

The league still remains divided on whether it will go through with the change, but it could happen.

“It will be news, and it will lead to more publicity and exposure, which never hurts,” Marinos president Akira Kaetsu said. “But we need to be accountable. If all you do is talk about revenue, people will think the J. League is just going backward in tough times.”

Kawasaki Frontale are for the two-stage system, while Albirex Niigata are dead against it.

“The biggest merit is, we draw better crowds,” Kawasaki president Shinpei Takeda. “You’ve got to get the customers’ attention.”

Said Niigata president Mitsugu Tamura, “You really have to wonder how many new sponsors we would actually attract in this financial climate. To me, the negatives far outweigh the positives.”