B. League Chairman Shinji Shimada recognizes that in order to carry out the league’s grand vision of becoming a major presence in Japan, it will first need to catch up in terms of popularity and market size to the J. League and Nippon Professional Baseball.

With that in mind, the league plans on advancing into its next phase — in which it will require stronger business results from its clubs.

On Tuesday, the five-year-old circuit revealed its roadmap for business expansion, which will call on clubs to increase revenues and raise their marketing game.

The main focus of the league’s plans is the top flight, with license screenings for the “new B1 League” set to be held in October 2024 ahead of the revamped first division’s launch in 2026-27.

Prospective inaugural members of the new B1 will be required to present annual sales figures of ¥1.2 billion ($10.8 million) or more and an average home attendance of at least 4,000 for two consecutive seasons ahead of the screening.

Current requirements that leagues play at a home arena with a capacity of at least 5,000 will not change. B1 teams had originally been mandated to obtain their own full-season home arenas by 2026, a timetable that has now been pushed back to 2028-29.

The league plans to play with 18 clubs in B1. Clubs that don’t make the cut will compete in the B2 or B3, with the former likely having the most teams.

“The league will be bigger when each club is able to provide its own values to its respective hometown,” Shimada said during an online news conference. “And if you can’t attract 4,000 fans or so at every game, you can’t say you’re capturing your local fans. Front offices will have to earn at least ¥1.2 billion by increasing sponsorships or through their basketball school operations.

“If you have an arena, it can be your team’s symbolic presence in your hometown and you can run your club sustainably.”

The B3 is currently a mix of professional and semi-professional clubs, but the division will become completely professional as part of the transformation.

Meanwhile, the league also revealed its marketing data for the 2020-21 season. With teams only able to fill their arenas to 50% capacity at most due to infection prevention measures, the B1 averaged 1,628 fans per game — half the 3,260 recorded in the 2019-20 campaign, which ended early due to the pandemic.

The Kawasaki Brave Thunders led the division with 2,353 per game while the 2020-21 champion Chiba Jets Funabashi followed with 2,156. The latter topped B1 with 5,116 in the previous year.

Both the league and its clubs continued to show progress in growing their fan bases through social media. The league amassed a total of 615,277 followers via its Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts as of May 2021, up from 546,239 in June 2020.

The Jets dominated the B1 with about 280,000 followers on those social media accounts.

The league increased its YouTube subscribers from 84,900 in June 2020 to 152,000 in May 2021, an increase of 179%. According to the circuit, 70% of newly registered followers live outside of Japan, reflecting growing overseas interest following the signings of players from the Philippines and South Korea.

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