Japanese Football League
Football, or soccer as my American friends call it, is the world’s most popular sport. The recent World Cup Final in Brazil drew in excess of 1 billion television viewers worldwide. In terms of global exposure the British game, in particular the English Premier League, has been leading the charge, With worldwide TV revenue, and a recently signed TV deal worth more than 3 billion pounds, the English Premier League is definitely the world’s top league financially, if not in terms of actual footballing quality.
Ask most football fans in Japan “What team do you support?” and you’ll hear a multitude of responses, but mostly they will say “Manchester United!”, “Liverpool”, “Arsenal” and so on. However, go outside of the EPL, and the picture is certainly not so rosy. In the English lower leagues, several clubs are facing extreme financial hardship. Once proud clubs, like Portsmouth, Peterborough and several others, have faced financial oblivion.
In Scotland, the Premier League can’t even attract a sponsor, whilst Rangers, the second largest team in the country in terms of fan base, went out of existence altogether, with debts running into the tens of millions.
Compare this to Japan, where, despite having a much smaller league, limited fan base, and extremely limited international commercial potential, the J League continues to thrive and the national team continues to reap rewards. Japan has qualified for every World Cup since they made their debut in France in 1998. Conversely, Scotland has not qualified for any major tournament since 1998. England remains a consistent qualifier, but seldom looks like a serious contender.
So, what can Scotland and the English lower leagues learn from Japan? I believe, there’s quite a lot we can learn. Here’s 8 ways the J-League can save British football.
The Customer is King.
This is a common phrase used in Japan’s retail industries. What the customer wants, the customer gets. This also applies to the way J-League games are staged. Prior to the debut of the J-League in 1993, extensive research and surveys were carried out amongst Japanese football fans. Chief amongst the demands of fans were: clean, safe and all-seated stadia, family sections and easy accessible facilities for families and young children, readily available and fairly priced food and beverages for supporters. In all these areas the J-League excels.
From the moment you set foot in the stadium to the moment you leave at the end of the game, you are truly made to feel like a guest. Seating is spacious, comfortable and on occasion, heated from beneath. There is a wide selection of food shops available within the stadium. Whether you want a hot dog and hamburger, or more traditional Japanese fare, it’s all here, and it’s reasonably priced. There are also plenty of outlets for buying those all-important club scarves and replica jerseys that no self-respecting fan should be seen without. Again, prices are reasonable.
Compare this to the UK, where fans frequently feel fleeced as they are hoarded into cramped, cold and often broken seats, with little if any protection from the elements. And let’s not even talk about the food. Last time I took in a game back home, the only thing colder than the chill wind swirling around the stadium was the centre of the over-priced, lukewarm steak pie I bought from the food stall.
Another area where British fans often feel gouged is in terms of ticket pricing and once again Japan shows the way forward in this regard. The most expensive ticket for a J-League game I have seen was around 5, 000 yen, which is the high end of the scale for the J-League. Most fans don’t pay more than 2000 ~ 3000 yen. If they buy a season ticket, the price can go as low as 1000 yen per game.
British fans don’t mind paying around 10, 000 yen to see the likes of Manchester United v Liverpool, but is it really acceptable to charge a similar amount to watch clubs like Wigan and Southampton?
Let Fans Enjoy a Beer at the Game
For most of my American friends, no trip to see the baseball or NFL game is complete without a cold beer to accompany the action. The J-League goes one better than this. Not only is beer freely available throughout the game, but you can actually order a beer without even having to leave your seat. Smiling staff circulate throughout the crowd during the game serving freshly poured pints of beer direct from the large kegs strapped to their back. In Scotland, drinking alcohol during football games has been banned since drunken fans rioted at the Scottish Cup Final in 1980.
Zero Tolerance of Bad Fan Behavior.
Japanese people are known throughout the world for their courtesy and kindness. However, football, being the passionate sport that it is, can, at times, bring out the worst in people. Earlier this year fans of the Saitama-based club Urawa Reds made global headlines for all the wrong reasons. During a J-League match, they unfurled a banner reading “Japanese Only”.
This clear act of incitement to racial hatred was met with a swift and robust response from the Japan Football Association. The JFA heavily fined and censured Urawa Reds and ordered them to play a future game behind closed doors, costly the club tens of millions of yen in lost ticket sales and match day revenue. However, in the UK frequent racist and sectarian behavior from fans of clubs such as Chelsea, Rangers and some others not only goes unpunished but at times the clubs and media have actively encouraged it. Urawa’s single offence has not been repeated, such was the severity of their punishment.
Develop Your Own Talent Instead of Expensive Foreign Imports.
As I said earlier, the English Premier League is one of the world’s most successful leagues. But how many of its star players are actually English?Not that many.