Rugby

Toshiba mulls sale of Top League team after 2019 World Cup

Kyodo

Toshiba Corp. is considering selling its famed rugby team after the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan as part of business streamlining, company sources said Thursday.

The electronics manufacturer sponsors the Brave Lupus, a five-time Japan Rugby Top League champion whose players include Japan captain Michael Leitch.

Toshiba CEO Nobuaki Kurumatani has been aiming to build a lean cost structure since assuming the top position in April, and wants Toshiba’s sports sponsorship to be reviewed despite the previous management’s decision last year to retain the company’s non-professional teams in rugby and baseball, the sources said.

Toshiba sold its B. League basketball team (Kawasaki Brave Thunders) earlier this year. The company continues to revamp its operations after an accounting fraud scandal and the bankruptcy of its U.S. nuclear power plant subsidiary Westinghouse Electric Co. It spun off its white goods business in 2016 and its personal computer, television and chip businesses this year.

After selling its home electronics business, sports sponsorship to grow brand awareness apparently became less important for Toshiba.

Toshiba also terminated contracts providing for its corporate logo to be displayed on the Times Square screen in New York and its decades-long sponsorship of the popular Japanese cartoon show “Sazae-san.”

The rugby team is expected to be sold off in 2020 or later, partly because Toshiba’s honorary adviser Tadashi Okamura heads the Japan Rugby Football Union.

“I think (the sponsorship) should be continued, but it’s what the current management team decides,” Okamura told Kyodo News.

The news has surprised and confused the Japanese rugby world.

A Brave Lupus spokesperson said, “I’ve heard nothing about it.” Another team official said, “We were trying so hard not to let (the financial trouble) affect (the team).”

Masahiro Kunda, high performance director of the Japan men’s 15 and a former Brave Lupus member, also said he had heard nothing about the matter, adding, “I want to continue training the players with poise so it won’t disrupt them.”

Toshiba dominated the early years of the Top League, finishing runners-up in 2003-04, the league’s inaugural season, before claiming five titles in six years. The Brave Lupus won three straight beginning in 2004-05, finished third in 2007-2008, before winning another two crowns back to back.

Since 2010, however, the silverware has eluded them and in 2016-17 they finished outside the top three for the first time in their history.

Toshiba finished the current season in sixth place in its pool and will battle in the playoffs, which begin on Dec. 1.