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A reliance on digital marketing has propelled the Kawasaki Brave Thunders’ rapid rise in popularity.

The Brave Thunders have experienced remarkable growth since IT company DeNA succeeded Toshiba as the team’s owner in the 2018-19 season. That growth has been reflected in the team’s home attendance figures, the number of sponsors and in sales.

Per the club, the Brave Thunders recorded ¥1.09 billion in sales this past season, up from ¥916 million the previous season, despite having to endure a variety of restrictions related to COVID-19, including an attendance cap of 50%.

The club is still in the red overall, and the pandemic may continue to have an impact on the league next season. Team president Nobuo Motozawa, however, said the team is on its way to being profitable in the 2022-23 season, which would put the club in the black for the first time since DeNA came on board.

The team’s consistent use of social media and other digital platforms has helped the Brave Thunders stand out among the B. League’s other teams.

According to the club, its official YouTube channel has more followers than any B. League or J. League club, with over 84,000 — Kawasaki overtook soccer’s Yokohama F. Marinos for the lead last month. The team had only around 3,000 followers two years ago.

In March, Kawasaki agreed to a partnership with UUUM Co., a marketing company with numerous YouTube influencers among its ranks. Some of these influencers have collaborated with the team’s YouTube channel, while others have made in-person appearances at Todoroki Arena for home games.

The team has also put emphasis on TikTok, with the club agreeing to a partnership with the social media platform last October. The Brave Thunders have over 75,000 followers on TikTok less than a year after the account was launched.

“The growth is just incredible,” Motozawa said during an online news conference Thursday. “It took us about two years to get to 84,000 on YouTube, but it’s been about seven months since we opened our TikTok account and have gotten to that point. I think it won’t take too long to get to 100,000.”

According to the B. League’s marketing report for the 2020-21 season, Kawasaki ranked seventh in the top tier B1, with a combined 114,000 followers across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter at the end April. The Chiba Jets Funabashi have the most with 280,000.

The Brave Thunders were named the B. League’s top social media club for the second consecutive season during the league’s award ceremony earlier this month.

The league will enter a new business phase from the 2026-27 season and will require clubs to come up with higher sales figures and increased attendance. Among the major criteria for B1 teams are ¥1.2 billion in sales and an average of 4,000 fans per game.

While Kawasaki can presumably meet those benchmarks easily, the team has bigger goals in mind for the long term.

Motozawa said the club is hoping to reach ¥4 billion to ¥5 billion in annual sales. He said that would be possible after the team moves into its new arena, which will have a capacity of 8,000 to 10,000.

“We can reach 4,000, but if we set our goal there, there is no way we can fill the new arena,” said Motozawa, the former chief business director for the Yokohama DeNA BayStars. “We think we can aim at ¥4 billion to ¥5 billion through our basketball and arena operations.”

Motozawa said if the club reaches a number like that, it would be in the same realm as “the second group of the J. League.”

In professional soccer, teams such as Kashima Antlers, Kawasaki Frontale and Gamba Osaka make around ¥4 billion to ¥5 billion in sales.

“We are going to make the new arena with that kind of business scale in mind,” he said.

The details for the new arena, including the location and timetable for the completion, have not been disclosed yet. Motozawa said that the club has narrowed the candidate locations down to two places in the city.

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