Contributor to J-Soccer magazine, Pedro Iriondo answered for Ecofoot several questions on the Japanese football. Totally unknown to European people, the Japanese J-League tries to recover its position at the top of the continental hierarchy even if some barriers are still hindering its development…
Can you introduce yourself to Ecofoot readers? How have you developed this passion for the Japanese J.League?
My name is Pedro Iriondo, editor of the Spanish football-industry website ‘Futbol Finanzas’ and collaborator of the Japanese football magazine ‘J-Soccer’. As for many others of my generation my first connection with Japan at all was no other than Captain Tsubasa. Years later and thanks to my job at a Japanese multinational I had the opportunity to visit Japan in several occasions and I got to know the culture. During this visits I took the opportunity to visit some stadia. At the time I was growing tired of the inequality and lack of emotion in some European leagues. In Japan I found a competition, with reasonably good level which keeps increasing and loads of emotion, where the outcome is in many cases unpredictable.
Can you present J-Soccer Magazine and your role in this media? What is the main goal of J-Soccer Magazine?
J-Soccer Magazine aims to be a source of information about Japanese football for those not able to read Japanese. Although the J-League is progressing in this sense and since this year they offer some web and Facebook content in English, there is still very little information online about the league and the teams in the world’s language. Most of the clubs do only create content in Japanese and those who have channels in English, with some exceptions, have never really taken care of them.
From Dusseldorf I follow the Japanese players in the European leagues and write articles or interviews focused on their experiences here. I like to focus on the less-known players as information on big names such as Kagawa or Uchida is often found on the mass media. For example I recently interviewed Yuki Ogimi, player at Wolfsburg and striker of the Japanese Women national team.
Which teams are the strongest clubs in this competition? To which European championship would you compare the J-league? Is there a strong hierarchy or is it a homogenous competition?
The best about the J-League is that the outcome is always difficult to predict, it is a much levelled competition. Of course there are some teams that have been traditionally strong such as Urawa Red Diamonds, Kashima Antlers or Yokohama F. Marinos…but none of them has won the league in the last five years! For example, last year Gamba Osaka won the treble right after being promoted from J2. Winning a league title after promotion would have been something amazing in Europe in the 80-90s but nowadays is just unthinkable. So I guess that it can be said that it is much more homogenous than what we normally see in modern football. Comparing it with a European championship…wow, that’s a difficult question! Probably if we leave aside the strongest teams such as Ajax, Anderlecht…J-League clubs would be able to be competitive in the Dutch or Belgian Leagues.
Are Japanese clubs powerful at a continental level?
Not as strong as they should be. Considering their quality, they could definitely compete with the best teams at continental level. Japan has had for a long time the best and most professional league in the continent. However, unlike in Europe, both fans and teams seem to prefer the local tournament over the AFC Champions League. The long trips and the low reputation that the AFC Champions League had were some of the reasons. However as the level rises across the continent and teams also get a spot at the Clubs World Cup the interest is rising. This year two Japanese clubs, Kashiwa Reysol and Gamba Osaka, have qualified for the quarter final, which is a good step.
What is the average turnover of a J-League club? Are there strong financial gaps between the different clubs?
« J-League clubs income is not very far from that of German Second tier club »
J-League clubs budget is somewhere between USD 50 and 30 million, being ticket sales and sponsorship the major source of income. Top teams on J2 operate with a budget between 10 and 20 million. Generally clubs outsides the big cities such as Tokyo or Osaka are those who operate on the low-end budgets but the differences are not as big as they are in European leagues. To give the readers an idea of the economic dimension, J-League clubs income is not very far from that of German Second tier club.
In terms of financial control, the J-League has its own licensing system, maybe the equivalent of UEFA’s financial fair play. This system sets restrictions on clubs losses and thus avoids them to spend beyond their earnings. A trend that it has been observed recently is that some are starting to build their own stadia in order to increase their revenues.
How much money do J-League clubs receive from TV rights?
J-League clubs earn somewhere around JPY 200m from TV rights while J2 teams receive approximately half of this amount. This income comes mainly from J-League domestic agreement with pay-per-view broadcaster SkyPerfect TV. In this field, there is yet much room for improvement as J-League TV share is quite low although this year SkyPerfect has signed a 5-year deal for overseas broadcasting for USD 2.9million. However this deal has been to some extent government backed as SkyPerfect recently received almost USD 37million to invest on the Japanese International Channel ‘Waku Waku’, which broadcasts the J-League in South East Asia. Through the channel the J-league has been offering free-of-charge broadcasting overseas as an effort to promote its competition in the region.
Are Japanese clubs earning much money from sponsorship?
Sponsorship income is key to J-League teams as they might get as much as nearly half of their income from this source. However talking of sponsorship in the case of J-League clubs may be misleading. You may note that most J-League clubs haven’t changed their shirt sponsor for years. Clubs are largely owned by corporations and big industrial companies. Corporations holding the majority shares of a club are then the main sponsors on the team’s shirt such as Nissan at Yokohama F. Marinos, Hitachi at Kashiwa Reysol and Panasonic at Gamba Osaka…As a result, the income from sponsorship may be not much more than your own shareholders, the corporation, covering the club’s debts.
In France, no media provide regular coverage of J-League football matches. Is it the same in other European countries? In your opinion, why European countries are not interested in Japanese football?
In Europe Eurosport 2 has broadcasted the J-League for several years although I am not sure of their offering in France. On a country-by-country basis there are different Websites offering pay-per-view access to J-League games such as LiveSport TV and Sportdigital. In Germany, where I currently live, LiveSport offers access to a selection of J1 and J2 games every weekend for approximately 5 euro/month while on Sportdigital it is possible to purchase single games although the number of available games is limited.
« European fans generally don’t care too much about what is going abroad »
Well, European fans have great leagues at home and they generally don’t care too much about what is going abroad whether in Asia or America. In addition, most of the players in the league are Japanese and unknown to the general audience. Moreover, in many cases it is necessary to wake up very early here to watch J-League!
Why Manchester City owners have decided to invest in Yokohama F. Marinos? Will this investment encourage new foreign investors to enter into share capital of Japanese clubs?
It should not be forgotten that Japan is still the largest economy in the world and thus the pool of potential sponsors is huge. Since GDP growth in Japan is practically non-existent, companies are giving more and more importance to overseas markets and especially growing economies which are the same markets that European football clubs are targeting.
For City Football Gorup, a corporation that looks at the global market, Yokohama F. Marinos was probably the most attractive football club to invest in in the J-League. On one side, Yokohama is the second most populated city in Japan and located right South from Tokyo. The pool of potential fans can’t be larger. On the other, Nissan is the corporation behind Marinos. Nissan is currently doing great efforts to increase their sales via football sponsorship (since 2014/15 Nissan replaced Ford as Champions League sponsor) and as a result of the deal, Nissan became global sponsor of the City Group.
Whether this move will attract more foreign investment is still unclear but in that case some regulations changes may be required. According to the current regulations foreign investor cannot hold more than 49% shares of a J-League club, although the rule may be broken by establishing Japanese Corporation.
Personally I believe it is difficult in the short-term. In Europe we may see foreign investors operating in a relatively global business environment. This is not the case in Japan where things are done in ‘very Japanese way’. Corporations like the City Group may have the power to overcome these barriers but there are not many like them in the football world right now.
Why so many Japanese footballers, who play for the national team, are playing for German clubs?
I think that there is a combination of two factors: the profile of Japanese players and a cultural issue. On one side, Japanese players are generally very good technically but less aggressive. These characteristics fit perfectly in the Bundesliga, since they can somehow fill the lack of skilful players that some German clubs may have. However, it would be much more difficult for these players to succeed in countries like Spain where the league itself is producing such a high number of highly skilled local players. On the other side, in certain aspects Japanese working culture may be closer to German culture than it is to Spanish or Italian. Thus, Japanese players may feel more comfortable playing at the Bundesliga and living in Germany than they would in Southern Europe or the UK.
If you need much information on J-League, do not hesitate to follow Pedro Iriondo on Twitter Follow @PedroIriondo
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