CHIBA – We have witnessed Japanese athletes develop into global stars over the past 10, 20 years. But the country still has a long way to go in order to stand on an equal footing with the world’s most advanced sports facilities.
A recent global sports conference and exhibition called “the Stadia and Arena Asia Pacific” could help move Japan in that direction.
The event, held Sept. 12-14 at Chiba’s Makuhari Messe, provided a rare opportunity for the participants, who mainly consisted of sports administrators, venue operators and scholars, to get a feel for some of the cutting edge technology and insights from sports authorities in Japan.
Launched in London in 1999, the event was hosted in Europe before moving to Singapore in 2014 and 2015. Last year, it landed in Japan, with the country awaiting some of the world’s premier sporting events such as the 2019 Rugby World Cup, 2020 Tokyo Olympics and the 2021 Kansai World Masters. This year, it returned for a second consecutive year.
At a convention hall at Makuhari Messe, more than 40 sports-related domestic and international companies exhibited their latest products and services.
There were corporations specializing in seating, grass, architecture, audio, security cameras, lighting and consulting among others.
German loudspeaker and amplifier company d&b audiotechnik participated in the Japanese event for the second straight year. Providing dynamic, high-quality sounds at stadiums and arenas is a must-have element for entertainment purposes in today’s professional-level sporting events, and the demands for it are increasing. The company hopes to break into the Japanese market going forward.
Noriyuki Tamori, marketing specialist of d&b audiotechnik Japan K.K., said there are challenges in supplying top-quality sounds at stadiums and arenas because they have different shapes and some global governing bodies, like FIFA, impose extremely high standards.
But he said the company, which has supplied speakers for some of the world’s major sports stadiums and arenas, such as Amsterdam Arena, home of Dutch soccer team Ajax, and ANZ Stadium in Sydney, has confidence in its experience. The company believes it can provide spectators, whether they come for concerts or sporting events, a positive experience, no matter where they’re seated.
“Because our speakers are originally made for music, we are genuinely particular about sounds,” Tamori said.
D&b has supplied sound services at concerts for worldwide superstars like Taylor Swift, Madonna and Rhianna, to name a few.
Tamori says the company has drawn more interest recently, partly because not much attention has been paid to the audio aspect in many of Japan’s older facilities, and also because of the recent push by sports administrators to have better, world-class stadiums and arenas.
“We would like to get in sports stadiums more, so this is a great opportunity for us,” he said.
Elsewhere, British rugby equipment company Rhino Turf also believes there are legit business opportunities in Japan.
Rhino dispatched a smaller staff to the 2016 edition of the event, held at Yokohama Arena, but returned with a larger presence as the Rugby World Cup draws near.
“This year, we decided to bring the Techzone because we think this is going to be ideal for the World Cup, for the fans, fan zones, where the kids can come and play and experience rugby.”
The Techzone is a training area enclosed by fences that incorporates high-quality synthetic turf and pads below it, that enhances the playing experience for players of all levels. Popup versions can be installed and it can be applied to various sports, from rugby to soccer and field hockey.
William Allan, international sales director for Rhino Turf, said the Stadia and Arena is a good opportunity for exhibitors to at least get to know new people and introduce the company’s products.
“We’ve had some good talks,” Allan said. “It’s all about quality of people. Last year, we had a lot of municipality people (from hosting venues for the 2019 World Cup).”
Meanwhile, the participants also had a chance to become educated about sports venues and facilities through a number of talk sessions, which were held for all the three days. The speakers varied, ranging from college professors to professional sports administrators and corporate executives with high expertise in their respective sports fields.
The topics were diverse as well, delving into how to build facilities with profits in mind, or how designs should fit into cities, how to create genuine multipurpose arenas, security issues, and many other topics.
In a Tuesday afternoon session to discuss how attractive stadiums and arenas should be, Yuko Mitsuya, Japan Basketball Association chairperson, cited the cases of the German soccer stadiums she visited last year, including Bayern Munich’s home, Allianz Arena, as one of the best examples in the world.
Mitsuya, a former Olympic volleyball player, said many of the Japanese gymnasiums she used to play in during the 1970s and 80s did not even have dressing rooms. She would sometimes leave without even taking shower after games.
She added that she would travel to the United States to compete, and sometimes play in college arenas with capacities of only 500 or 600 people. But they had lockers rooms, and even people who would provide the players with towels.
“I wonder what they would think if those who play in circumstances like that come to Japan to play at our facilities,” Mitsuya said. “I’d feel embarrassed and also thought it’d be a scary thing.”
Etsuko Tsugihara, president of sports and entertainment management company Sunny Side Up, Inc., who spoke in the same session with Mitsuya, insisted it is time for Japan to brainstorm how to make profits at stadiums and arenas.
“You can do it by not spending too much money,” Tsugihara said. “Hopefully, great ideas will be presented going forward.”
The government revealed plans to have 20 stadiums or arenas it hopes are attractive enough to bring people in, and in turn help revitalize cities and regional arenas by 2025. It is part of the government’s goal of the past few years to grow sports into a bigger industry.
Yoshiyuki Mano, professor at the Graduate School of Sport Sciences of Waseda University, who is a sports facility scholar, told The Japan Times that stadiums and arenas are society’s infrastructure and can be used in many different ways, including for professional sports and enhancing the daily health of citizens.
“Japan is behind in terms of sports facilities, and the industry is going to grow into a bigger one by arranging the infrastructure, and the government has started to raise awareness of that,” said Mano, who served as a moderator for a few sessions at the Makuhari event.
“As (the event) came to Japan, it’s given private company people a chance to gain more information (on elite stadiums and arenas) and listen to some of the most advanced perspectives that you don’t get on the internet. So I think that this is an excellent opportunity.”