Soccer | From the Spot

J. League levels up video

by Dan Orlowitz

In the third year of the J. League’s decade-long, $2 billion domestic broadcasting deal with DAZN, the league is hitting its digital stride and starting to deliver content on par with some of the world’s top competitions.

The league’s ability to rapidly upload viral clips — whether joyous goal celebrations or tearful salutes by players to fans of their former clubs — stems from its acquisition of production rights, which the league didn’t have under its deal with former broadcaster SkyPerfecTV.

Long-form content has also improved, such as the monthly “Inside J. League” behind-the-scenes documentaries and “J. League Judge Replay,” a weekly show hosted by vice chairman Hiromi Hara which reviews each round’s controversial officiating decisions.

Much of this is playing catch-up with major players such as the English Premier League and German Bundesliga, but bigger and better things are yet to come.

Earlier this year, the J. League announced the creation of a massive digital asset hub in collaboration with technology partner NTT Group. Named after the traditional Japanese wrapping cloth, “J. League Furoshiki” will allow the league to centralize its massive digital library and deliver video content to domestic and international stakeholders.

The league and NTT revealed a number of intriguing projects in their March 14 press release, such as the creation of a centralized office to oversee video reviews, live provision of scouting footage to coaching staff, remote broadcast productions and AI-generated highlight packages tailored to the needs of overseas news outlets.

The latter will certainly benefit the J. League’s international outreach in 2020, when SkaPa will release its death grip on overseas broadcast rights and a new global deal — potentially with DAZN, which has streamed Vissel Kobe and Sagan Tosu games in some territories — is expected to be signed.

Closer to home, Furoshiki is being used to create what the J. League hopes will be a new way for fans to support their clubs in the form of its “Digital Stadium,” which opened to the public for the first time on Sunday.

As 20,119 fans watched Kashima Antlers grind out a tenacious 1-0 win over host Vissel Kobe at Noevir Stadium, another 359 gathered at a conference center in Tokyo’s Chiyoda ward. Those who paid ¥3,000 sat on the floor, while attendees with ¥6,000 tickets enjoyed comfortable seating.

Awaiting the assembled crowd was a massive screen measuring four by 17 meters, displaying a birds-eye view of the Noevir pitch provided by five specially installed 4K cameras.

Giant monitors flanked both sides of the super-wide screen, showing footage from the game’s 22 camera angles, live stats and formation charts, while stadium audio poured into the room through an array of surround-sound speakers.

“We’ve thought for a long time about how we can present our video, photo and data content to fans, and today’s ‘Digital Stadium’ was in a way an experiment,” chairman Mitsuru Murai told Nikkan Sports. “The epitome of soccer is the intensity (of the stadium experience), and one challenge is delivering that outside of the stadium.”

It’s hardly the first time that Japan has toyed with the idea of virtual presentations. Stadium-sized public viewings featuring 3D imaging and holographic projection were among the most-publicized elements of Japan’s unsuccessful bid to host the 2022 World Cup.

While that technology is still a long way out, Murai believes that Sunday’s “Digital Stadium” debut represents a path to bigger audiences and new revenue streams for the league.

“Until now we’ve always operated with the assumption that we can’t bring fans into the stadium beyond the venue’s capacity,” Murai said. “Now we can open the doors wider, even for games that sell out. This is a way to grow revenues for the league and our clubs, and we’ve created significant potential.”