More Sports / Volleyball

V.League hoping to shake up volleyball scene

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

The name of the new league is nothing fresh, but Japan’s top volleyball circuit will shake things up next fall.

The Japan Volleyball League Organization had already announced it would launch a new circuit, for both men and women, for the 2018-19 season.

On Monday, it revealed the new circuit would be called the V.League and also unveiled the new league’s logo.

Japan’s top-flight industrial circuit is currently known as the V.Premier League (the secondary division is called the Challenge League). When the organization revealed an outline of the new league in May, it was tentatively called “The Super League.”

Speaking at a news conference in Tokyo’s Shibuya District on Monday, league chairman Kenji Shimaoka said the organization wound up settling on a more simple moniker because of the original league’s far-reaching name recognition since its launch in 1994.

The “V” obviously stands for “volleyball.” But the organization said the letter also has other connotations representing the new league’s philosophy, such as “value,” “vibrant,” “vitality” and “victory.”

During the news conference in May, the organization introduced the framework for the new league.

The V.Premier League has been run entirely by local volleyball associations, holding games across the country. But under the new league structure, teams will host their own home contests, sell tickets on their own and have their respective franchise areas.

The leagues for both the men and women will be divided into three divisions and teams will need to obtain proper club licenses to play in their preferred division.

The model is similar to what basketball’s B. League, which began last year as a professional circuit, has applied.

There are currently eight teams in both the men’s and women’s division of the V.Premier League. The new league will raise the totals to 10 and 12 for men and women, respectively.

All the clubs in the V.Premier League have already acquired the necessary “S1” license to join the first division in the new league. (Teams hoping to play in the second or third divisions will need at least “S2” and “S3” licenses.)

Under the new structure, the league will look more like a professional circuit, where the original league was a mix of professional teams, like the Sakai Blazers, and company teams. Although technically it will continue to be a non-pro circuit, enabling teams to use company names.

But Shimaoka, who was part of the gold medal-winning Japan men’s national team at the 1972 Munich Olympics, did not rule out the possibility of the league turning completely pro in the long run.

“At this point, we cannot say that we are going to eventually become a professional league,” the 68-year-old Shimaoka said. “But if each club puts in the effort (to draw fans and make the sport more popular) and the league becomes so big that we can’t run it unless we become more like a pro circuit, then we are not going to dismiss the possibility.”

As for the players, some are thrilled about the new league, because it gives them a better chance to turn volleyball into a bigger sport in Japan.

Panasonic Panthers star Kunihiro Shimizu said the players would be required to try to attract attention by interacting with the fans of their local areas more in the new league.

“Personally, I’ve been trying to go various places to spread the word about volleyball and our team,” the 2013-14 V.Premier League MVP said. “There are still so many people that don’t know volleyball.”

Takuya Takamatsu, of the Toyoda Gosei Trefuerza, insisted that with the launch of the V. League, the organization and clubs have to promote teams more than particular individual star players, which he said has been the case.

“Currently, players that are recognized are all those who play on the national team,” Takamatsu said. “But when you look at soccer (the J. League), people know the names of the players, even if they don’t play on the national team. Hopefully, when the V. League starts, we are going to create the situation that people would say, ‘I know this player and that player,’ “