The Toyama Grouses are listed as the home team at nine venues for the bj-league’s 2009-10 season. The Rizing Fukuoka and Osaka Evessa are both listed as the home team at eight different venues, while the Oita HeatDevils are scheduled to use seven home venues this season.
What’s more, the Evessa will play eight straight “home” games between Dec. 19 and Jan. 24. In reality, they’ll be playing two games apiece at four different venues. Confusion will set in for more than a few folks around the organization.
And you can forget about an Evessa player gaining an advantage over the opposition when it comes to the comfort level of shooting jumpers at a certain arena, or knowing which baskets are easier to shoot banks shots off of.
The Tokyo Apache, who spent the previous four seasons playing in the cavernous, costly Ariake Colosseum, will call Yoyogi National Gymnasium No. 2 their home for some games this season. But, in reality, they are a team without a true home.
Consider: Since a two-game series against the Niigata Albirex BB ended on Oct. 14, the Apache won’t play another game in Tokyo, one of the world’s largest, most populous cities, until Dec. 16, when they’ll face the reigning champion Ryukyu Golden Kings at Yoyogi.
Two months without a home game?
That’s a disgrace!
The Apache, who are 4-4 under new coach Motofumi Aoki and a new ownership group to start the season, will play host to the Albirex on Dec. 7-8 at the Kanagawa Prefectural Sports Center in Yamato.
(The words “home-court advantage” hardly came to mind when I wrote the previous sentence.)
Professional sports teams deserve a chance to gain a rabid following for home games, giving them a chance to have a so-called psychological advantage over their foes.
Now I realize economic challenges — venue costs in Japan can be outrageous — play a big factor in how the bj-league made its season schedule. But I also realize the current model is not helping the bj-league develop a stronger following, make money, or get fans excited about the next home series in who-knows-where.
To build a genuine fan base, which leads to attendance in the quadruple digits, fans need to have a chance to see a team play regularly at the same venue. Tokyo’s fans, just to cite one example, need to traverse the country to do so. And it’s a preposterous notion that more than a few of them will even think about doing so, especially during this economic recession.
One of the biggest criticisms of the rival JBL over the years has been its all-inclusive home schedule — basically every gym in Japan has been used for regular-season games — and that has forced fans to keep a notepad and a map handy as they make their plans to attend games. This year’s JBL media guide, for instance, lists 56 home venues for the league’s eight teams.
Again: Teams need a true home. This should be rule No. 1 for any pro sports league.
Using the above teams as examples, the bj-league’s venue situation isn’t much better. For barnstorming teams like the Harlem Globetrotters or a traveling circus, there’s no need to think about a home venue. Their entertainment programs are built upon repetition, not on the intrinsic uniqueness of competition.
So where’s the common sense in the bj-league’s scheduling?
It doesn’t exist.
And this does little to help the league’s credibility, especially since it’s trying to distance itself from the old business model established by the JBL.
That’s why it’s time to seek new solutions to this ongoing problem.
The following are necessary steps:
1. The bj-league should implement a rule that states a team must play a minimum of 80 percent of its home games at one facility.
2. For a team’s other home games, the use of local college gyms should be the ideal second option.
(In other words, forget about regional games in a team’s home prefecture to appease the locals.)
3. Establish partnerships with local prefectural governments and construction firms to build basketball-only venues. Share the costs and the profits in the future.
The current scheduling setup isn’t good enough. Players and fans deserve better. And it’s time the bj-league recognizes this for what it truly is — a crisis — and work tirelessly to find a solution. Though it may take thousands of phone calls and hundreds of meetings to change the status quo, if the league wants a brighter future, this will be time well spent.
Or as a friend once told me, “If you really want something, you’ll never take no for an answer.”
This is no time for the bj-league to be timid about its own future.