Basketball / B. League

Jets president Shinji Shimada aims high as team strengthens business plan

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Attracting as many fans to arenas across the nation is vital for teams in the B. League to be successful.

But nobody else in the circuit thinks that way as intensely as Chiba Jets Funabashi and their president, Shinji Shimada.

The B. League, in its second season, has mostly enjoyed steady growth in attendance.

According to its monthly marketing report, the overall attendance figures of the top two divisions through February have improved by 11 percent compared to the same period from the inaugural 2016-17 campaign.

For the top division alone, which features 18 clubs, it has averaged 2,799 fans per game, up by 5 percent from last year as well.

Among the 36 clubs in the top two divisions, the Jets are the leader. The East Division club had an average home attendance of 5,246, outdrawing the runner-up Levanga Hokkaido by more than 1,500.

Chiba led the league with 4,501 per game last season, too.

The Jets have also led the league with the overall number of followers of their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts (over 220,000).

Chiba also topped the entire league in ticket sales with ¥281 million for the B. League’s first season. The club amassed overall sales of more than ¥900 million in the 2016-17 season, which was one of the elite figures.

The Jets drew only 1,143 in their inaugural season (2011-12 in the bj-league), 1,248, 1,432 and 1,909 in the following three years, when they played in the NBL, one of the predecessors of the B. League.

But the Jets have made a remarkable rise in attendance since the B. League kicked off, thanks to Shimada and his impressive managerial skills.

Looking at ways for professional clubs to make financial profit, Shimada stresses that attracting fans to attend games is the most crucial element for professional teams to consistently be successful.

Speaking at a seminar at the Sports Business Expo Tokyo in February, Shimada described convincing fans to come to the arena as “blood” for Jets management because without them, the club would not be run “soundly.”

The 47-year-old said that getting fans to attend a game just once is actually a can of corn. He added that there are higher hurdles to get them to return to the arena for additional games. But that is what his club is striving to achieve.

“It’s easy for you to bring fans to come to a game,” said Shimada, whose Jets are 37-12 through Sunday and sit in first place in the East Division in the ongoing 2017-18 campaign. “But it’s important for you to make them want to come back again.”

That said, Shimada didn’t attempt to increase the club’s attendance so desperately until three years ago, because the Jets were not truly ready to satisfy their fans yet.

Shimada believes that making fans return to Funabashi Arena, the home for the two-time All-Japan Championship winner, requires just more than winning to satisfy them.

One of the important elements Shimada referred to was hospitality, because once some of the fans feel the team lacks it, they could circulate bad evaluations. And this would damage the club’s reputation.

“So I tell our employees to be aware of it,” said Shimada, who took over as president in 2012 for the Jets, who were struggling financially at the same.

Shimada has visited some local politicians in Chiba who were competitive in elections to ask them about their elections strategies as references for his club to draw fans.

Because he attaches so much importance to filling the arena with fans, Shimada values the person who is in charge of ticket sales. He said that the section head and other employees in the ticket sales division are asked to be aware of sales figures and prepare accurate plans to sell tickets for upcoming games.

Shinya Iwata, who formerly served in the community division for NPB’s Chiba Lotte Marines, works as the Jets’ ticket sales leader (he also handles local promotions).

Shimada has lectured in front of other team presidents and executives of B. League clubs, describing how the Jets have transformed themselves into one of the league’s most successful and popular teams.

The Niigata Prefecture native had also served as the vice chairman of the league this year, but stepped down last month. He became a board member for the Japan Top League Alliance in March.

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