Japan Rugby Planning Domestic League

17 Oct 2019

Japan’s rugby union (JRFU) has drawn up plans for a new domestic top-flight club competition to capitalise on the Japanese rugby team’s success during the ongoing home Rugby World Cup.

The tournament has seen the Brave Blossoms progress to the quarter-finals for the first time in their history after securing top spot in Pool A following a 28-21 victory over Scotland in Yokohama.

The result, coupled with Japan’s victory over Ireland earlier in the tournament, has drawn massive interest from domestic and international fans across the nation, which is hosting the first Rugby World Cup to be held in Asia.

Speaking to Japanese financial newspaper Nikkei, JRFU Vice-President Katsuyuki Kiyomiya revealed the union’s plans to launch a new 12-team tournament in the autumn of 2021, which it is hoped would generate annual revenue of 50 billion yen ($460 million) through media rights and sponsorship deals.

He said: “This World Cup is a big event Japanese rugby has not experienced before and we are tested on how we take the excitement and enthusiasm created by this event to the next level.”

The union will host a news conference in Tokyo after the World Cup, on 18 November, where Kiyomiya said that more details would be unveiled around the proposed competition, which is also hoped to attract more international rugby stars to Japan.

According to the Nikkei report, the competition would aim to run between August and January, so to avoid overlapping with the Super Rugby competition.

The Tokyo-based Sunwolves rugby franchise joined an expanded tournament in 2016, though was axed during a round of culls made by Super Rugby’s organisers SANZAAR in March this year.

The format, which traditionally featured 12 teams from Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, has struggled to attract the level of rights agreements since expanding to Japan and also Argentina, which is thought to be the reason for downsizing the competition.

Among the 16 teams in Japan’s existing Top League, several are owned by domestic companies including Suntory, Toyota, Toshiba and Panasonic. Kiyomiya added that the union was already in discussions with prospective partners for a new competition.

According to the Nikkei report, they include advertising group Dentsu, as well as photographic equipment company Canon, with the latter’s chairman, Fujio Mitarai, also the president of the Rugby World Cup 2019 Organising Committee.

Other interested parties apparently include Hiromichi Shinohara, chairman of Japanese telecommunications firm NTT, and also Saburo Kawabuchi, an adviser to the Japan Football Association (JFA) and a key player in the founding of the J League, Japanese soccer’s existing top-flight competition.

DAZN, the over-the-top (OTT) sports subscription service which holds domestic rights to the J League, is also reportedly holding discussions with the JRFU.

Sport categories: 
Rugby Union