The team has changed its name from the Toyota Alvark to the Alvark Tokyo as Japan’s men’s pro basketball enters a new era with the launch of the B. League this fall.
But the name switch is just a fragment of their sweeping reform. More importantly, the Alvark now embrace an attitude as a genuine professional basketball club that will play in the 18-team top division in the new circuit.
The Alvark were founded in 1948 and have been title contenders with star, national team-level players for a long time. But because they played in a semi-pro league, which has changed its name from the Japan League to the Japan Basketball League to the National Basketball League, they have concentrated mainly on just winning and cared less about making their home games entertaining attractions to draw more fans and have a bigger fan base.
In June, Toyota established the Toyota Alvark Tokyo Corp. to run the team, which was mandatory due to the new league’s rules, and it needs to pay more attention to the entertainment aspect of business from now on. To do so, the club made several drastic personnel moves.
The Alvark, four-time league champions, appointed Kunihiko Hayashi, who had previously been an executive for Mitsui & Co. Foresight, Ltd., to lead the new Alvark club. As part of its business, Mitsui & Co. Foresight helps the sponsorship marketing and stadium management for the Hiroshima Carp and Chunichi Dragons of Nippon Professional Baseball as part of its business. The club has also hired several staff who have sports management backgrounds. (Mitsui & Co. Foresight has purchased 10 percent of the shares for the Alvark Tokyo.)
Elsewhere, the Alvark recruited Yui Koizuka, who had previously been in charge of business operations for the J. League’s Kawasaki Frontale and the NBL, as the club’s business operations general manager, while they also hired Kohei Shimoide, who oversaw public relations, ticket sales and community service for one of the NBL’s most popular teams, Link Tochigi Brex.
“With Mitsui’s knowledge on entertainment, we would like to make our team more like a sophisticated sports business,” Hayashi said.
The Alvark will call Yoyogi National Gymnasium No. 2 home to start the inaugural B. League season. But the arena will undergo renovations in 2017 and 2018, and they will have to look for another venue at that time.
Needless to say, Tokyo has an edge over other cities in terms of having potential fans because of the massive population, but at the same time, having teams in large markets has often been a huge challenge, with basketball competing against a wide range of other entertainment options.
Hayashi insisted that his club needs to create a fascinating environment at the arena with its games, events, food and drinks.
“We have other amusements like concerts, movies and other sports,” Hayashi said. “And we’ll have to brainstorm how we can make the urban people come to the arena.”
Hayashi added that the Alvark will make a concerted effort to have a bigger fan base. He said that they will also work harder to persuade people to join their fan club so they can have more people at their home contests on a consistent basis.
“The team’s had its fan club, but I personally don’t think we had one as a professional club,” Hayashi said. “That being said, we would like to make our fan club members feel it’s worth supporting the Alvark.”
Hayashi said that the club would also commit to community activities to get more support from its local fans.
“We’d like to make contributions to our local areas so it’ll make the people feel like we are their own team that are representing their towns,” he said.
The team has been based in Fuchu and continues to conduct practices there.
Hayashi said that the club has started a demographic study in order to collect precise data to use for its fan services.
The Alvark will square off against the Ryukyu Golden Kings in the league-launching game at Yoyogi National Gymnasium on Sept. 22.
The team had the best record (47-8) in the final NBL season during the 2015-16 campaign and was eliminated in the playoff semifinals.