Basketball / B. League

Shinji Shimada embraces challenge of leading B. League

by Kaz Nagatsuka

STAFF WRITER

Assuming the heavy responsibility of being the head of a sports league during the COVID-19 pandemic probably isn’t something many people are willing to take on.

Chiba Jets Chairman Shinji Shimada, however, said he “gladly” accepted the B. League’s offer to be its next chairman the first time the league approached him.

The 49-year-old, who previously served as the Chiba Jets Funabashi president, was approved as the candidate to become the league’s next chairman by unanimous consent during an emergency general meeting of the league’s members, which was held online Wednesday.

Shimada is expected to be formally authorized as chairman by the league’s board of directors on Tuesday. His term will officially begin July 1.

Speaking at a news conference in Tokyo, Shimada said he was caught off guard when the league’s specially appointed working group listed him as a candidate for the post in the beginning of April. He said he hadn’t anticipated something like that coming amid the ongoing pandemic.

Shimada, who has been known as a successful businessman, including during his tenure as the Jets’ president, said his intuition warned him to not let the opportunity slip away.

“Honestly, I thought I should take it because we are all in difficult times,” said Shimada, who was revealed as the choice for the position when current chairman Masaaki Okawa officially announced his intention to step down late last month.

Shimada said that having run companies over the last quarter-century, including a travel agency and the Jets, he has been adept at turning them around.

“I’m the only one who has experienced the bj-league, NBL and B. League. I increased the attendance for the Jets, who were once on the verge of bankruptcy,” the Niigata Prefecture native said. “So (as the chairman) I thought that I would be able to contribute to the clubs, which might have some business issues, with the experience I’ve accumulated. I would like to do the best I can to use my experience to help this league develop even further.”

As Jets president, Shimada surprised everyone by moving the team from the bj-league to the NBL in 2013. The two circuits are the predecessors of the B. League, which was inaugurated in 2016.

Shimada, who has also been a successful business consultant, has advised other clubs experiencing economic slumps in the past. Until last month, he served as vice president of the All-Japan Taekwondo Association.

While the league has mapped out long-term business expansion plans, projects Shimada will inherit from Okawa, the first and biggest issue Shimada will face as the new chairman will be the financial damage the coronavirus has caused for the league and its clubs.

The 2019-20 B. League season was forced to end with one-third of the regular season remaining in late March because of the virus outbreak. Shimada said the league has exhausted its internal reserves because of financial impact.

“I would like to make it our mission to not let a single team go bankrupt,” said Shimada, who will resign as the chairman of the Jets at the end of this month. “Without the clubs, the league has no presence. Without the growth of the clubs, there’s no growth of the league. Unless the clubs get better, unless we give our fans good experiences, (the league) will not expand.”

Shimada said that he would like to open the 2020-21 campaign as scheduled in October.

Admitting that the B. League fans are younger and involve more females, Shimada said that the league would like to actively embrace technology, such as providing virtual services that allow fans to experience games without going to arenas.

In that regard, the league officially announced the extension of its partnership with SoftBank Corp. on the same day. The IT company is speculated to have paid ¥12 billion over four years since the inception of the league. The terms for the new agreement were not disclosed, but a B. League official said that the league would receive more money than the previous term.

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