Vegalta Sendai is in serious financial trouble, struck by the double blow of the coronavirus pandemic and frustration over its failure to improve the commercial side of the club despite a decade in the J. League’s first division.
The Tohoku club announced Tuesday that it expects to report over ¥6.6 billion ($6.2 million) in losses for 2020, making it insolvent to the tune of over $3 million.
While many of the club’s financial struggles can be traced to the pandemic, its current situation can largely be attributed to its failure to raise sponsorship revenues over the past decade. Vegalta ranked 19th in the league in sponsorship earnings in 2019, despite having played in the 18-team first division since 2010.
Things aren’t looking much better in the stands. Attendance at Yurtec Stadium has steadily declined from an average of 17,332 in 2010 to just 14,971 in 2019.
That’s despite Vegalta’s storybook fourth-place finish in the wake of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster, followed by an even more miraculous run to second place in 2012.
This year’s crowds have been even more dire. Even as the J. League capped attendance at 5,000 in line with government regulations intended to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Vegalta set its limit even lower — at 3,400 — to ensure appropriate social distancing.
But none of the team’s games in the COVID-19 era have drawn more than 2,900 — reflecting growing apathy toward a club that many believe has failed to live up to its potential.
Seeking to slow down the flow of red ink, Vegalta launched a crowdfunding campaign on Sept. 26 with the hope of raising ¥30 million by the end of October.
So far the campaign has raised just over ¥7 million — well below the ¥125 million-plus sums raised by Kashima Antlers Urawa Reds in their successful campaigns, which unlike Vegalta’s featured perks such as signed uniforms and stadium experiences.
The campaign has been met with a muted response at best from Sendai supporters, who — frustrated with what they believe is a lack of vision from the club — protested during the team’s Sept. 27 home loss against Cerezo Osaka.
After the 3-2 defeat, which featured two Cerezo goals in the final 10 minutes of play, Sendai fans displayed banners criticizing Vegalta’s management and demanding an audience with club president Shuitsu Kikuchi.
“Didn’t we teach you not to assume that supporters and money will always be there?” read one banner, referring to a similar message displayed in 2005 after the team failed to clinch promotion from the J2.
As part of Tuesday’s announcement, the club released the findings of an investigative committee it established in mid-July to develop solutions to its financial crisis.
Among proposals being advanced are an aggressive move to fill four vacant uniform sponsorship positions; negotiations with Sendai’s government to reduce the cost of renting Yurtec Stadium; adjustments to ticket prices; and the ongoing transfer of the Nadeshiko League’s Vegalta Sendai Ladies to team sponsor Mynavi.
While the J. League has relaxed its strict club licensing requirements in recognition of the pandemic’s financial impact, Vegalta would still be at risk of losing their club license if they were to end a third straight year in the red.
“We are exchanging ideas with the league,” Kikuchi told reporters Tuesday, according to Nikkan. “We’ve told them that we plan to escape insolvency in three or four years.”
Levain Cup final set
Kashiwa Reysol and FC Tokyo will meet in the final of the Levain Cup after winning their respective semifinals Wednesday.
Tokyo withstood Tamagawa Clasico rival Kawasaki Frontale’s ferocious attack to win 2-0 at a rainy Todoroki Stadium, with Brazilian talisman Leandro scoring both goals.
At Mitsuzawa Stadium, Reysol took an 11th-minute lead through Tatsuya Yamashita’s effort and protected it for the rest of the game to defeat Yokohama F. Marinos 1-0.
The league cup holds a special place for both clubs, which each have undefeated 2-0 records in the final. Tokyo’s first two major trophies came in 2004 and 2009 (against Urawa Reds and Frontale, respectively), while Reysol lifted the “Cracker Cup” in 1999 after beating Kashima Antlers and in 2013 after winning against Urawa, the last time the tournament’s climax took place at the old National Stadium before its demolition and reconstruction.
While Kashiwa fans will be expecting a repeat of that 2013 performance from then- and current manager Nelsinho Baptista, Tokyo supporters will be looking for Kenta Hasegawa to bring the capital club its first major title since 2011.
Hasegawa is all too familiar with the cup final, having already participated in it seven times — three times as a player and four times as a manager — with Shimizu S-Pulse and then Gamba Osaka.
“I’ve appeared in seven finals but I’ve only won twice (as a Shimizu player in 1996 and Gamba’s manager in 2016),” Hasegawa said Wednesday. “I want to do my best to win it a third time.”
While the final has often attracted sold-out crowds, the new National Stadium is expected to be restricted to 50% capacity — around 34,000 at most — for the Nov. 7 fixture. It will also mark the first time that fans of both teams will be allowed to attend in large numbers since the league’s opening round in February.