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The financial damage suffered by the B. League due to the COVID-19 pandemic has not been as severe as anticipated, thanks to the circuit’s consistent growth in popularity and recognition since its inception.

But with the virus continuing to affect the industry in the months to come, Japan’s professional basketball competition can’t afford to be complacent.

On Monday, the B. League published its clubs’ financial reports for the 2019-20 season, with overall revenue slightly above the previous season’s in spite of the campaign’s abrupt end in March due to the pandemic.

According to the league, revenues of 36 clubs of the first and second divisions totaled ¥22.4 billion ($215 million), which slightly exceeded the previous year’s figure by ¥300 million ($2.87 million). Monday’s announcement did not cover clubs in the third-division B3 League.

“It was absolutely devastating that we ended up not playing the last one-third of the season,” B. League Chairman Shinji Shimada told a news conference at the league office. “But the fact that we surpassed the previous season’s revenue was very positive.”

Many clubs received support from sponsors who didn’t ask for fees to be returned after the league called off the remainder of its season and canceled its playoffs on March 27. League officials estimate that the decision cost clubs ¥2.8 billion ($26.8 million) in lost revenue.

Gameday revenues including merchandise and food sales were hit especially hard due to the loss of home games. According to the league, average ticket sales at B1 and B2 clubs dropped 21.8% and 30%, respectively, compared to the 2018-19 campaign.

Jets forward Sebastian Saiz (center) attacks the Alvark basket on Oct. 28 at Funabashi Arena. | B. LEAGUE / VIA KYODO
Jets forward Sebastian Saiz (center) attacks the Alvark basket on Oct. 28 at Funabashi Arena. | B. LEAGUE / VIA KYODO

The overall number of spectators in the 2019-20 season was 1.71 million, down from 2.5 million the year before. The league calculated that it would have recorded an all-time high of 2.77 million fans had it completed its scheduled 60-game season.

The Utsunomiya Brex and Chiba Jets Funabashi, two of the league’s most popular clubs, suffered deficits due to the loss of gameday revenue. Utsunomiya led the league with ¥310 million ($2.97 million) in ticket sales but still had 12 home games remaining when the season was stopped. The Brex were ¥147 million ($1.4 million) in the red.

Overall, 22 clubs — including nine from the B1 — reported deficits. Three B1 teams were among 11 in a state of insolvency. Officials expected that no clubs would have gone insolvent were it not for the impact of the coronavirus.

The two-time B. League champion Alvark Tokyo came up with the biggest earnings, boosted by major sponsorships such as that of owner Toyota Motors, followed by the SeaHorses Mikawa, who are backed up by automotive component manufacturer Aisin.

Shimada, who assumed the post in July, has insisted that the league would protect its clubs from the pandemic’s economic impact. He revealed Monday that the league will provide ¥2 billion in support funds this season. The league reckons that around 14 of the 36 clubs will finish the 2020-21 season in the red.

In the ongoing campaign, the league is on pace to reach ¥23.8 billion ($228 million) in revenue. While attendance limits in place to prevent the spread of the virus are expected to reduce ticket sales by 12%, officials expect clubs to make up the difference through higher sponsorship fees.

Shimada credited clubs for showing their resiliency and limiting the damage sustained by the pandemic’s fallout.

“Nobody had predicted anything like the coronavirus was coming,” Shimada said. “I’d say it’s positive that the clubs did what they did despite being unable to complete the season with one-third of it remaining.

“Overall, my impression is that they did a good job.”

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