J. League seeks to widen scope in Asia

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

As two decades have now elapsed since its inception, the J. League is entering a new era.

And as one of its most conspicuous projects for the next decade and beyond, the Japanese professional soccer circuit is looking to expand its presence in Asia, particularly Southeast Asia.

But cultivating influence in a new market requires elaborate preparation. The J. League certainly acknowledges that and has mapped out its strategy based on reliable marketing data to make its projects as successful as possible.

Enter Repucom, one of the largest sports marketing research agencies in the world. It has numerous major clients, including the NFL, Major League Baseball, the PGA Tour and major Premier League clubs), and started its partnership with the J. League in May 2013.

Repucom supplies the J. League with large amounts of accountable marketing research data and evaluates it in a way that helps the league best maximize its marketability in the Asian region.

The company provides the league domestic data as well, and it also presents the same information to all 18 top division clubs. (Repucom also has clients in NPB, including the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.)

“As the J. League has their global strategy and needs marketing research, we help them be recognized in Asia as much as possible. That’s one of the biggest roles for us,” Hideyuki “Andy” Hata, president of Repucom Japan, told The Japan Times.

“Another thing is, since the league is going to try to expand their broadcasts in Asia, we collect minute data, such as how many people are watching and what kind of values are generated, and provide them to the J. League so their content develops inside and outside of Japan.”

While there are many other rivals for Repucom around the world, what separates the company from its competitors is that it has its own image recognition computer system. With that system, Repucom automatically calculates sponsorship values of the ads that appear on team jerseys and on the sideline boards through the television screen.

According to Hata, all the data is assembled in India and analyzed via the system, which Repucom has began using for the past decade.

He added that four main elements — location, size, length of appearance and number of times content is shown on the TV screen — are inputted into the system, and the proper values are calculated for clients.

Danny Townsend, president of Repucom’s Asia Pacific, Middle East and African operations, said in an email that the company would be able to help the J. League understand Asian soccer fans and build strategies to cater to those fans by supplying regional broadcast analysis and consumer and fan research data.

“With such planning and engaging with football fans across the region, it will inevitably open up doors for business, including more lucrative broadcast and sponsorship deals,” he said.

Daisuke Nakanishi, the J. League’s director of competition, said at a Tokyo seminar of the Japan Association for Sports Management last fall that the popularity of the English Premier League is massive in Asia, and in fact about 65 percent of the entire broadcast right fees from overseas for the league come from the region.

In a September 2013 press release, sportingintelligence.com, stated that the Premier League will earn £940.8 million (¥135.9 billion) from broadcasters in Asia for live game telecasts in the three years from the 2013-14 season.

The annual revenues from the domestic TV rights for the J. League is roughly ¥5 billion.

Nakanishi said that he’s also concerned that money and human resources, including the players, are assembled too much in the world’s top five pro leagues (Premier, Spain, Germany, Italy and France), with the mid-class leagues below them getting impoverished.

But the J. League isn’t just watching the elite European leagues from the sidelines. It has attempted to air its games in Southeast Asia in recent years, with matches being televised in places such as Thailand and Hong Kong.

“Fortunately, the Asian economies are growing and the markets are big there,” Nakanishi said. “We’ve concluded a partnership with Repucom in order to maximize our values.”

The J. League formed an Asian strategy division in 2011 and has entered partnership accords with six professional leagues in Southest Asia (Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Singapore and Indonesia) since 2012 to cooperate in marketing, running academies, players transfers among others.

Alongside the league’s Asian strategy, some clubs have begun some bold moves on their own as well.

Consadole Sapporo, a J2 club, signed Vietnamese forward Le Con Vinh on loan last year, and he became the first Southeast Asian to play in the J. League.

Also, Ventforet Kofu acquired Dutch-born Indonesian forward Irfan Bachdim late last month.

Reportedly, Vinh’s participation in the J. League drew so much attention in Vietnam it made Consadole one of the most famous Japanese teams there.

Townsend noted that having various nationalities from other Asian countries in the J. League will help boost its recognition.

“It will be a challenge, but if any league can build its commercial footprint beyond their domestic boundaries,” he insisted, “the J. League is the one most likely to succeed.”