Commercialization of Sports in Japan and the Problems of Universal Access
by Sadao Morikawa, Prof. of Nippon Sport Science University
The Collapse of Amateur Mythology
“Everyone has something that can not be yielded to”, in front of the full audience said resolutely Mr. Tetsunosuke Ohnishi, ‘the god of rugby’, Professor of Waseda University who was the former chairman of the Amateur committee of Japan Amateur Sports Association. ‘None would sell their wives or daughters to eat. The same can be said in the amateurism in a sport.” His speech sounded as if threatening all of us with a loud but low voice, and I found myself helpless, oppressed by his great energy. It was called the Ohnishi-Magic. Only regrets remains, for I couldn’t do any reaction to his remarks. I was young at that time.
That was a story of 35 years ago. People had no doubts at the idea that an amateur sportsmanship was the most valuable. Consequently all the sports associations or athletes had been holding inconsistencies by the rule of ‘prohibiting athletes from receiving financial rewards for their prowess. Athletes were absolutely helpless entangled in their own net of amateur regulations. For, the more would a sport be technically developed and internationalized, the more it should be inevitable that its competition level and financial cost become gigantic. In consequence, ‘pseudo-amateurs’- false amateurs - had overrun the world of sports in the names of ‘company amateurs’, ‘army amateurs’, ‘state amateurs’, ‘school amateurs’ and so forth.
Only lately they have been released from this yoke. On an international level the expression of amateurs disappeared in the IOC Charter （revised）since 1974. In Japan, it was 1978 that the Title Sponsorship Meeting was held for the first time as the DESCENTE track and field meet. After with this as a start, the ban was lifted publicly on the relation between a sport and money. Thereafter there could be seen a flock to hold challenge sports events one after another like a surging wave. Today to the final end sports world in Japan was shockingly tumbled into a real scrounger. I don’t know if you could call it the commercialization of a sport only because it could make money. The next is one of the good examples to show you how it is. Intelligibly it was shown at 198４ LA Olympics. Peter Ueberroth, the chairman of the LA Olympic Organizing Committee, worked hard on TV rights fees to raise the administration fund, as everybody knows as a ‘Ueberroth Magic’.
It was notable, also that the LA Olympics generated a large surplus at the last stage, without any financial support from the federal government, in spite that all the other Olympics had been ended in a big deficit whenever held. For the IOC, this was the first Olympics so-to-speak ‘commercialized’. As you know the key word for it is the TV broadcast rights fees and sponsorship, both of which Ueberroth introduced. This was the opening stage for the commercialization of Olympics. In this way sports events not mentioning the Olympic Games were commercialized and the whole world soon came to know the Olympics would make handsome profits. At last the world rushed into a battle for bidding the hosting country or a city. Then appeared the Olympic bribery scandals.
A Drive for the Multi-Media and Multi-Channels; the Scramble for Sports Event Transmission
Sports broadcast in Japan mainly based on television will largely transfigure its system by the spread of Internet. If the FIFA will make a formal contract to recognize the coverage by internet journalists, its influences would become greater. Only mentioning the TV sportscast, we have already the cable transmission. As a consequence, the present law of broadcasting needs to be modified in the near future from the definition in a narrow sense of wireless transmission to be directly received by the public - the 2nd article.
A boundary between a transmission and broadcasting will become more ambiguous and it is easily predicted that the both will merge together. Just thinking of the sportscast on TV, with the analog broadcasting system via the terrestrial wave we can watch the Japan Broadcasting Corporation -NHK- and other commercial broadcasting stations. As for the satellite, there exist the NHK and the WOWOW station. We are now facing the rapid approach to the multi-media and multi-channel innovation. In December 2000 the BS digital broadcasting started, and before than that started the CS digital broadcasting as like the Sky-Perfect Communications Inc. that is called Ska-Per, and it had once been the amalgamated company of the ‘Perfect-TV’ and ‘J-Sky-B’ , afterwards combined also with ‘DirecTV’. Especially since the start of digitalization of TV it enabled to increase the number of channels more than 300 stations.
Who will choose the channels such enormously increased when the number of TV viewers and their watching time would not be changed? There should be a severe competition for the ratings race. Sports programs must be one of the most suitable software for TV broadcasting since they are visual enough and really dramatic. Here we find the main cause of the scramble for broadcasting rights of big sports event programs. It is very natural that, as the Olympics and the World Football Championships Cup are very interesting substances, the fees for those big sports broadcast rights will soar. They call these software ‘the killer-contents’ in TV though rather dreadful, which means the most competitive programs overwhelmingly strong for the others. I do not go further on this point because many others have intensely been discussing the topic. I’d rather take up the problem here how it will be unfolded in Japan with a concrete aspect.
In an excitement of the news about ‘Murdock will land Japan’, there was a rumor that the J-Sky B Corporation would make the package purchase of total broadcasting rights both of the Sumo Tournament and the J-League matches. There was the same kind of rumor going around too, when Nakata won a big popularity in Calcio Serie-A, that some company would get the exclusive right of the ‘Serie-A’ matches from an early stage. Concerning the Sumo Tournament, it has been the NHK who broadcasts it, although the TV-Asahi was putting it on the air as a digest program from 1959 to 2003, and afterwards the NHK is only station to transmit it. As for the football broadcast, the situation was largely changed. At first the WOWOW won the exclusive right to transmit the Serie-A, then the Sky-Perfect got it. In the 2002 Japan-South Korea co sponsorship World Cup, the same won the exclusive right to transmit all 64 matches by live and the re-broadcasting right, too. It was very lucky for Japanese football fans; that we could watch by live through the terrestrial wave at least 40 matches including the opening, the final and all the Japanese games - without paying anyway- with the FIFA’s favor
Regarding charged broadcasts the situation is stated in detail by Prof. Sumii’s and Prof. Nakamura's paper; in America as like ‘Pay-per-view’ or in Europe the Subscription Services in which only subscription contractors can receive transmission. Here however lies a problem, just as Prof. Sugiyama points out, does ‘the universal access privileges’ have the quality to be considered in Japan the national agenda to discuss. Though there’s a feeling that the point at issue becomes rather dim, because of the withdrawal of the Sky-Perfect from the FIFA World Cup transmission, it is important to argue whether a sport could mature as the culture that infiltrate the public and whether we could have a sport event suitable enough to be called the national event in our country.
According to the annual opinion poll carried out by the Yomiuri Newspaper, the two top favorite ‘Sports Games to watch” were the Sumo wrestling and professional baseballs. However about the Sumo, its popularity was hanging low after the boom of ‘Waka-Taka brother (Sumo )wrestlers in the first half of ‘90s - in the 1st place. Lately the top place was replaced by the professional baseball for 12 consecutive years – according to the ’06 Feb. research. It is ever on the top - 45.5% - over and above all other 2nd ranking sports games. In the 2nd place comes the marathon - 34.0%, in the 3rd comes the relay marathon race - 28.5%, in the 4rth the inter high school baseball championships - 27.0% and comes the professional soccer in the 5th -25.0 %. The popularity of the pro-baseball is deeply depending on the Yomiuri Giants - 24.8%, and the second favorite team appears to be the Hanshin Tigers - 14.5%. Then comes the Chunichi Dragons - 4.4% , and the Softbank Hawks - 4.3%. Even the pro-baseball we could hardly recognize it as ‘the most favorite national sports games to watch’, judging from the data. As a result it arrives to the conclusion that the specified station will try to get the exclusive right to transmit only the Giants’ games, while there will be a difference if the transmission would be given by any commercial broadcast station with passing CM or given by the subscription services or the pay-per view system.
Talking of the national support of sports games, almost all the Japanese people are particularly interested in the Olympic Games. It is said that the Japanese are so fond of the Olympics. The next is the research figure of the ’04 opinion poll by the Yomiuri. Overwhelmingly 80.4% of the respondents were attracted to the Athens Olympics; on the other hand 19.4% were not interested in the Olympics. The data concludes that there could be the nationwide disapproval in the situation which you can watch either the opening ceremony or the all sports programs only via charged channels like subscription services or the pay-per-view system. It could not be stopped by the existing broadcast law. If such a situation occurred, I am afraid, are we going into a powerful argument of the universal access privilege in the national Diet so as done in Europe?
I am very anxious about what will occur, and how the broadcast circumstances will change after experiencing the 2002 Japan Korea World Cup, the ’04 Athens Olympics and the ’06 German World Football Cup. What will occur if we would face to a sudden soaring of the broadcasting fee, triggered by the excessive competition among broadcasting stations? How would the Japanese people react if you are not allowed to watch whatever sports programs you like without paying? Does it affect much the positioning of sports culture and its social meanings, or does it generate the nation’s leaving and abandoning of watching sports events ?
In that case the relationship is to be asked between almost all of sports fans in Japan (which means Japanese people) and the sports world in this country, especially the professional sports associations and the sports organizations in affiliation with the Japan Amateur Sports Association and the JOC. The independence and autonomy of the sporting world are to be asked. It must be recognized first of all that the sporting world could be shifted into a captive of money, and a carefree parasite to the State or to the enterprises. It seemed in the first as if released from that terrible inconsistencies of sports amateurism saying ‘prohibiting athletes from receiving financial rewards for their prowess’, however this situation would lead to the conclusion that it collapses by the end.
Furthermore, sports world has to stand on the economical foundation based on many people’s support and their understanding to increase the value of sports activities. More concretely, it has to build its fundamental finance on the admission fee, the participating or enrollment fee and instructing rewards. That should be the principle conception.
It is essential to evaluate real sports fans, supporters and players who want to pay for watching, who want to pay for playing, and who want to pay for enrolling the meet. It has to acknowledge the principle mind that is to say ‘the improvement on the basis of the spread’. In other words it is the popularization of sports, and this mind should be the resolute center for every sports organization to be fully supported both financially and physically. For both of sports players and sports organizations, it is inevitable to respect this as a major premise - a principle idea- first of all before commercializing it.
The Subject of the Sports Reform in Japan
The rapid commercialization of a sport in Japan broke the fetters by the amateurism, however at the same time, it brings us the sports business theory too much straightforward. It is a regrettable fact that it does not work in the way it is supposed to. Sportsmen (sports organizations) were supposed to be free from the restrictions of pocketbook restraints by the stop of amateurism. They are now facing to a big inconsistency to be bound by the money unpredictably. I will show you one of the examples; the control of a sport by the TV money. It seems natural that the sports organizations and its leaders are going to look a direction for the TV stations, advertising agencies and sponsors in general, but not for the sports fans. The distance between the public and the pro-sports world would deviate from the expected line for evermore if this continues. In such a situation, I am anxious, that nobody would discuss as a main subject the universal access privilege that is to say ‘the right for everyone to watch a sport you want to’.
Is it only for tele-viewers and consumers? If the present situation continues, it will never be discussed for the sake of players and the nation who love sports. They are regarded only as consumers, equivalent to the clients for the companies. Even if they would be treated as ‘the client gods’, this is one of the convenient means of money-making. It is the deplorable situation of the sports world in Japan. The next fact will prove it that in almost all sports organizations the settlement of accounts of an income is greatly out of balance in relation to that of outgoings, when you loot at the incomings by meet-enrollments and the spectator mobilization. This could be seen both in a budget stage and in a settlement, too. Therefore you will see clearly in an above example, their parasitism, in presumption with the poor ratio of independent financial sources.
Today we have to discuss sincerely how to conquer this catastrophic reality, although it might have been constructed on way to a developing process of sports in Japan. I am not satisfied at all with the sense of present leaders in Japanese sports world, who never understand its necessity. That should be accused. Now when we are under the slogan of ‘Sports for all’, we have with our whole strength to systematize the sports organizations based on the people’s support which seeks for the true development of Japanese sports world. We have to do such an effort on a national scale. The slogan ‘Sports for All’ should be the subject to be wrestled with earnestly, not being left only as a slogan. While realizing the movement of sports for all, we should question all over again the relationship between the television broadcast and sports events. With that in mind, there could be for the first time a possibility to realize the true idea of the universal access privileges in Japan.
Nakayama,M.(2006),’Economic development and the value aspect of sport’, in Maguire and Nakayama(2006 edited), Japan, Sport and Society, Routledge, London and Tokyo.
Sumii,T.(2006), ‘Making of sports buisiness and Broadcasting Right in America’, in the Forefront of Sports Broadcasting Rights Buisiness(revised), Kadensya,2006.
Nakamura,Y.(2006),’Sports Broadcasting and Universal Access’, in the Forefront of Sports Broadcasting Rights Buisiness(revised), Kadensya,2006.
Prof. Sadao MORIKAWA, Nippon Sport Science University,Tokyo
7-1-1, Fukazawa, Setagaya-ku,
Tokyo 158-8508, Japan
Institute for Sport,Culture and Civil society (ISCC)
（Chief Director : Sadao Morikawa）
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