J. League | J. LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

J. League offers clubhouses as PCR testing sites

by Dan Orlowitz

Staff writer

The J. League isn’t just doing everything it can to help players and fans stay safe when professional soccer returns to Japan — it’s also stepping up to help the country’s efforts against the coronavirus.

Following last week’s meeting of the league’s executive committee to pass an extensive relief package for clubs financially affected by the ongoing shutdown, Tuesday’s board meeting was the closest we’ve seen to “routine” in the last few weeks.

But J. League Chairman Mitsuru Murai didn’t come to the traditional post-meeting Zoom news conference empty handed, revealing that earlier in the day he had met with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga at the prime minister’s residence to discuss the possibility of using J. League clubhouses as facilities to conduct PCR examinations.

“It may sound absurd, but it was suggested that the J. League could potentially do something to help the country in its struggle against the coronavirus,” Murai said.

With 56 clubs across 39 of Japan’s 47 prefectures, the league is well positioned to offer its support to a wide variety of areas, including regions with fewer major medical institutions.

Murai suggested that tents and prefabricated structures could be set up in parking lots to handle test recipients, while medical officials could make use of shower facilities present at most clubhouses to decontaminate.

According to Murai, the proposal was met with approval by Suga, quoting him as saying “even if we don’t use all of the clubhouses at once, I would be grateful to see one or two such cases.”

While Murai’s proposal was approved by the league’s board of directors, clubs will likely be allowed to decide their own level of cooperation.

League, players push video content

With no new games on tap and training generally shut down through the end of the Golden Week holiday period, the J. League is trying to keep fans happy with alternative content as clubs attempt to create new revenue streams to replace lost match day income.

Over the last month, the league has posted highlights of historic matches to its YouTube channel, ranging from Hidetoshi Nakata’s first league goal in a 1995 game between Bellmare Hiratsuka and Kashima Antlers to Urawa Reds’ dramatic return to the top flight with their stoppage time win over Sagan Tosu in the last round of the 2000 J2 season.

The league’s recently established international YouTube channel is not slouching either, slinging out videos highlighting star players of the past and even long-form recaps of key games such as the infamous conclusion to the 2005 J1 season, in which five clubs entered the last round within reach of first place.

For those looking to watch complete games rather than highlights, J. League broadcasting partner DAZN has you covered. The streaming service currently offers three full matches from the league’s archives, including the December 1993 romp of Verdy Kawasaki over Urawa that sent the green-clad side to the inaugural Suntory Championship series.

Fans wanting to enjoy the 2003 second-stage finale between Yokohama F. Marinos and Jubilo Iwata in a whole new way can watch it alongside the J. League’s accompanying YouTube commentary video, in which several players who participated in the game — including Takashi Fukunishi, Ryuichi Maeda, Tatsuhiko Kubo and Daisuke Nasu — hold a wide-ranging discussion with J. League Vice Chairman Hiromi Hara.

Some clubs are aggressively experimenting on YouTube, Instagram and even TikTok — something the league hopes can be adapted to give exposure to club sponsors and generate advertising revenue.

“Clubs are trying hard to make video content, but it’s about getting businesses and sponsors on those videos as much as possible,” said J. League general m anager Masaaki Kimura on Tuesday. “We want to increase that kind of content, and it’s important to build on content that does well and develop it.”

Even players are becoming aware of the value of YouTube as a content platform, a concept which has been slow to take hold in Japan. Cerezo Osaka striker Ken Tokura has been among the most progressive, jumping out to nearly 3,000 subscribers — more than enough to start generating revenue through the site’s partnership program — in just under three weeks.

Samurai Blue defender Yuto Nagatomo has also jumped onto the video site, racking up over 13,000 subscribers in less than a week with a pair of characteristically humorous cooking videos.

While the J. League has largely focused on entertainment, the Japan Football Association’s video content has leaned more toward advocacy through its ″Sports assist you″ initiative. The short clips, many of which have been recorded by Japanese players based in Europe, feature messages of support as well as indoor training exercises for children to follow at home.

The JFA is also uploading a number of Kirin Cup match replays to its YouTube channel, although the videos are unfortunately only viewable in Japan.

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