Financial woes force Trians to quit NBL

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

The Wakayama Trians finished runnerup last year in the NBL, but they were able to enjoy that success for only a short time.

The club announced Wednesday that it will not complete the remainder of the current season due to severe financial woes and submitted a notice of withdrawal to the league.

“We have an unfortunate announcement today,” the team’s management company said in a statement posted on the team’s official website. “We, the Wakayama Trians, have made efforts to respond to the enthusiastic support of everybody. But we have run out of ways to improve our situation and we can no longer run the team, so we have stopped our team activities as of Jan. 7.”

Despite the fact that the Trians advanced to the NBL Finals last May, where they fell to the Toshiba Brave Thunders, the club has suffered continuing financial struggles.

The Trians were formerly owned by Panasonic, based in Osaka Prefecture, but moved to Wakayama after the electrics company decided to drop the basketball team two years ago.

The Trians have received some financial backup from Panasonic for at least a couple of years, from the 2013-14 NBL season. But that didn’t really relieve the club’s distress. In fact, after the NBL Finals were over, the club underwent a complete organizational restructure, replacing the president and waiving 10 of the 14 players from last year’s squad. The Western Conference club also released Croatian head coach Zeljko Pavlicevic.

The situation hasn’t improved this season. The team’s home attendance has dropped from 1,247 per game last year to 622, which is the lowest in the 13-team league and way below the league average through the latest regular season games, and has sunk to the fifth place in the six-team Western Conference with a 4-17 record so far.

There was a dispute between the club and 12 players that played for the team last season regarding unpaid incentives for the players for finishing in second place in the league in the 2013-14 campaign.

The NBL’s acting president, Mitsuru Maruo, said at a Tokyo news conference on Wednesday that the league had recognized the club’s serious financial difficulties since mid-November and supported it with managerial betterment plans, but it hadn’t helped to improve the situation.

Maruo said that the club had over 50 companies as its sponsors last year, but that figure shrank to just a single digit this season.

“I don’t think that they (the club) were able to establish good relationships with the local companies, fans and the local (prefectural) association,” Maruo said. “I don’t believe that Wakayama was an inappropriate place (to have a pro basketball team) or that it was inappropriate (for the Trians) to become a professional club.”

Earlier this season, the Tsukuba Robots fell into a similar situation with its previous management unable to run the team due to financial problems. In Tsukuba’s case, the league stepped in and ran the club until new management arrived in December.

The NBL decided to not do the same for Wakayama, however.

Maruo explained that there were differences between the two cases.

“In the case of Tsukuba, we knew that there would be some supporters even before the old management broke down,” he said. “But it wasn’t the case for Wakayama. They couldn’t see any supporters helping them out, and we couldn’t see a way ahead with them.”

But it seems that there is a chance for the Trians to keep playing in Wakayama.

Maruo said that Wakayama Prefecture’s basketball association and other companies are working together to seek a possibility to run the team as the new management.

Yet Maruo added that he and the league knew no further details and the revival might not take place. He said that the decision should be made by early next week so that the team could be back on the court when the league play resumes on Jan. 21 (it is currently on a break due to the All-Japan Championship).

Whether the Trians survive or not, the NBL and Japan basketball’s image has been dealt another blow.

Asked if the financial criteria that the league imposes on clubs who join are too low, Maruo admitted that the league has to review the standards.

“We’ve had the clubs go through different inspections and then approved them,” he said. “But these are the facts (with Tsukuba and Wakayama), and we have to reflect on them and undergo more detailed examinations of clubs.”