When the WE League kicks off its inaugural season in September with the goal of bringing professional women’s soccer to a larger audience in Japan, it will do so with the help of two key allies.
On Monday the league announced the appointment of streaming service DAZN as its broadcasting partner on an eight-year deal, in addition to unveiling furniture and lifestyle brand Yogibo as the competition’s title sponsor through the 2022-23 season.
The WE League will become the latest domestic sports competition in DAZN Japan’s portfolio, joining the J. League, Nippon Professional Baseball and basketball’s B. League.
The service, which launched in 2016 with the goal of becoming the “Netflix of Sports,” recently announced a partnership with the UEFA Women’s Champions League in cooperation with YouTube that will see the elite club competition streamed for free around the world.
“DAZN is fully committed to diversity, equity and inclusion through sports at a global level, and we have been showing our passion through a variety of activities both on and off the pitch,” DAZN Japan Executive Vice President Martyn Jones said.
“Together with the Yogibo WE League we look forward to supporting women in society through sports.”
While WE League Chairperson Kikuko Okajima declined to disclose the value of either contract, she said that the WE League would produce and retain rights to its broadcasts — an arrangement similar to the one in place between DAZN and the J. League, who last year extended their own contract through the 2028 season.
“The biggest thing was that DAZN was working to raise the value of women’s sports. We are in negotiations with over-the-air broadcasters, which DAZN was also willing to allow,” Okajima said.
“Even though we are brand new, we feel as though (by partnering with DAZN) we are on the same level as UEFA.”
The WE League is the latest venture into the sports world for Yogibo — distributed in Japan by Web Shark Inc. — which has recently sponsored mixed martial arts promoter Rizin Fighting Federation as well as a car in Japan’s Super GT competition.
“As a company we had been looking for sustainable development goals (SDGs) to contribute to when we were approached by the WE League,” Webshark president Seiji Kimura said. “We’re very interested in tackling the issue of gender inequality, and as we had been very interested in soccer, it was the perfect opportunity to become involved in women’s soccer.
The company, known for its colorful bean bag chairs and other cushions, has committed to bringing its sensory room technology to WE League venues, allowing fans with light and sound sensitivities to enjoy games in person.
“Sensory rooms are becoming prevalent in the United States, but Japan has been slow to adapt and we want to introduce them at each stadium,” Kimura said.
Okajima said she believed the new league was a perfect fit for Yogibo, which sells its products at malls and other retail centers across the country.
“Yogibo has a lot of family customers and that’s an audience we’re targeting,” Okajima said. “We want children who play soccer and their parents to come to the stadium and watch soccer in person.
“Until now they’ve sponsored male-centric sports such as RIZIN and Super GT, but by featuring (J-Pop group) NiziU in commercials and sponsoring the WE League they’re supporting women, who are a major target for their brand, so we want to work together with them.”
Also on Monday, the WE League announced kickoff times for its opening three rounds of fixtures, which were revealed last month. The highlight of the league’s Sept. 12 opening day will likely be the afternoon encounter between longtime powerhouse Tokyo Verdy Beleza and last year’s Nadeshiko League champion Urawa Reds Ladies at Ajinomoto Field Nishigaoka.
“When Nadeshiko Japan won the 2011 Women’s World Cup, it changed the way society looked at women’s soccer,” Urawa midfielder Hikaru Naomoto said at an event announcing the league’s new sponsors. “I saw how the performances of the top players could raise the value of the sport.
“The WE League will be a top league, and I hope we can do the same and become a competition that young girls dream of playing in.”
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