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Pursuing the Ultimate in Entertainment with Sports and the Internet of Things

["Chisounomori" Focus Series] Sports × Digital

This series introduces trendy and popular themes from among those covered in Fujitsu Research Institute's information magazine Chisounomori by interviewing consultants who are working on actual business projects. The fifth theme is "Sports × Digital."

©Kawasaki Frontale

Interview Participants

Daisuke Nakanishi (Executive Managing Director, Japan Professional Football League)
Hiroaki Dei (General Manager, Sales Management & Marketing Division, Japan Professional Football League)
Masaaki Okawa (Chairman, Japan Professional Basketball League)
Atsushi Oguchi (Information Integration System Division, , Fujitsu Ltd.)
Takeshi Imamura (Corporate Vice President, Director, Distribution and Life Service Business Consulting Division, Fujitsu Research Institute)
Yasuaki Matsumoto (Chief Senior Consultant, Distribution and Life Service Business Consulting Division, Fujitsu Research Institute)

J.LEAGUE's 100 Year Plan: "Making Japan a Happier Country through Sport"

― The future of sports in Japan looks very bright thanks to the launch of B.LEAGUE in the fall of 2016, Tokyo 2020, and other developments. What is J.LEAGUE's philosophy behind the motto "Making Japan a Happier Country through Sport," and how are you putting it into practice?

Daisuke Nakanishi
Executive Managing Director
Japan Professional Football League

Nakanishi: At a town hall meeting during his visit to Japan near the end of 2015, Bill Gates stated that the issue of stalled GDP growth among developed nations will not be resolved without private sector efforts aimed at solving new social problems. Although Germany constructed an environment for sports as a public good after World War II, Japan didn't launch its J.LEAGUE until 1993, during an era where the sports environment had to be built by the private sector instead of the national government. I think our "100 Year Plan" for energizing the people by changing the social environment through sports is aligned with what Bill Gates was saying.

― Everyone is familiar with J.LEAGUE's philosophy of being "rooted in the community," aren't they?

Nakanishi: J.LEAGUE clubs have succeeded not by asking people to "come watch soccer," but rather by asking them to "come shout out their community's name." That is, they operate through an awareness of the local community that I think will continue to be important in the future.

The Role of Sports in Life: Entertainment or School Education?

― I've heard that B.LEAGUE's philosophy is "pursuing all-out entertainment."

Masaaki Okawa
Japan Professional Basketball League

Okawa: Saburo Kawabuchi is the first chairman of both B.LEAGUE and J.LEAGUE, so in that sense, they share the same DNA of emphasizing the "creation of sports clubs with roots in each community." Behind this entertainment, however, is the "dream arena" concept. I think that in addition to acting as a place to play the games themselves, an added-value function must be offered by the stadium in the case of soccer, or the arena in the case of basketball. Some of Japan's sports arenas and gymnasiums prohibit the wearing of outside shoes, or prohibit eating and drinking. I want to keep in mind the importance of letting the spectators enjoy the entertainment.

Nakanishi: Japanese people tend to see entertainment as "not culture." If you think about it, though, even when Mozart made his music, his goal at the time was to make people happy by entertaining them. So Mozart and Michelangelo both created entertainment. These days in Japan, new forms of kabuki and other arts are being incorporated while leaving the traditions intact, showing that there is nothing contradictory about combining culture and the pursuit of entertainment.

Yasuaki Matsumoto
Chief Senior Consultant
Distribution and Life Service Business Consulting Division
Fujitsu Research Institute

Matsumoto: Sports is seen as an extension of physical education in Japan today, but I get the sense that it will be seen more as entertainment in the future.

Okawa: Although sports grew out of the idea of "moving your body for fun" in the West, its roots in the spirit of martial arts remain strong in Japan, and the concept of "enjoying sports" did not exist from the start here. I think this is one of the major reasons why it has not yet become established as a part of Japanese culture.

Nakanishi: Japanese people associate "enjoyment" or "entertainment" with a feeling of guilt, even though this is necessary to enjoy life.

― The assumption that "righteousness means enduring difficulty" is still part of the Japanese conception of morality, isn't it?

Nakanishi: A certain German coach once said that although Japanese people see mental strength as the ability to endure when things get difficult, Germans see it as the ability to become creative at such times. In other words, how you put your knowledge into practice and make it through difficult times is important.

― Do these different values with respect to sports imply that the role played by sports in life is also viewed differently?

Nakanishi: In Europe, sports are changed with the seasons, and the idea is to have children play a variety of different sports, trying a new one each week. The tennis player Steffi Graf was also a star long jump runner up until junior high school. This idea of teaching children to enjoy sports is based on the same principle as teaching them how to play the piano so that they can play it for their entire life.

Okawa: It's not limited to children, either. When senior citizens learn how to enjoy sports, this leads to an extended healthy life span. I think this is an important issue for us.

The Globalism of Sports

― As Japanese companies see fewer prospects for domestic growth, they are being forced to expand globally.

Nakanishi: Although many different industries are being overtaken by waves of globalism, it is the sports industry that symbolizes this trend more than any other. The establishment of the EU has given workers the ability to move around at will, and as a result, soccer players can freely cross national borders to participate in international matches. This means that money becomes highly concentrated as, for instance, teams decide to "pick Nakata in order to sell broadcast rights in Japan." This sort of thing epitomizes globalization. Although J.LEAGUE was able to acquire superstars like Zico and Jorginho at first, these days it is having trouble hiring this level of players because of the relative differences brought about by globalism. J.LEAGUE faces the difficult challenge of making its presence known amidst this kind of globalism. As the market has become borderless, we need to provide value in the Asian region. I think that if Japan can show leadership while building another large soccer market within Asia, new possibilities will present themselves.

How Can We Share the Thrill of Sports?

Takeshi Imamura
Corporate Vice President, Director
Distribution and Life Service Business Consulting Division
Fujitsu Research Institute

― Fujitsu is an official sponsor of the J.LEAGUE club Kawasaki Frontale, has entered into partnerships with the Japan Basketball Association (JBA) and B.LEAGUE, and is otherwise deeply invested in sports. What else should we do to share the thrill of sports even more in the future?

Nakanishi: When I attended conferences in Berlin and Cologne recently, common themes for both were "information and communications technology and sports" and "the Internet of things and sports." In particular, the theme of the Berlin conference was "The World Has Changed." That is, instead of claiming that the world is changing, the conference flat-out stated that it has already changed. I think the sports world needs to be more aware of this, and to incorporate new technologies. Dreaming about this sort of thing is a lot of fun for a marketing person.

Matsumoto: When it comes to the Internet of things and sports, I think there are a number of different directions. One is to "provide customers with new ways of enjoying sports through fusion with entertainment." Another is to "visualize connections with people and interest levels, and apply this to attracting customers." For instance, people tend to think that anime fans aren't interested in sports, but this is not actually true. People are diverse, and there are opportunities to expand how the thrill of sports is shared.
Fig. 1 charts the differences in interests between soccer fans and general junior and senior high school students. The higher the point, the greater the interest in soccer or baseball, and the farther right the point, the greater the interest in anime, artwork, and novels. We must consider how to interpret this information in order to expand the market.

Fig. 1 Differences in interests between soccer fans and general junior and senior high school students

Matsumoto: The other day I held an event with Chiba Lotte using an anime that features a junior or senior high school student from Chiba as its main character. For sports to grow roots in the community, it is also important to find roles for a new stadium. In spite of the fact that this event was only promoted on the Web, the limited offering of 1,000 tickets sold out in an hour (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2 Collaborative event with local anime

― To spread the thrill of sports further, it is also important to know the fans. One approach that fans love is to offer additional information digitally. The utilization of digital services that fans can enjoy has progressed quite a bit.

Atsushi Oguchi
Information Integration System Division
Fujitsu Ltd. (as of February 2017)

Oguchi: I have been taking various approaches with PACIFIC LEAGUE. Based on the idea that it might be possible to increase royalties by allowing viewers to search through the approximately two hours of video produced during a baseball game for when their favorite players are at bat, or just for homeruns, for instance, we have begun developing technology to make this possible. Using video recognition technology to automatically tag pitching scenes with this kind of meta-information makes it possible to search through videos. Although this technology was meant for entertainment purposes at first, now it is also being directed at the players. For instance, given video of all of PACIFIC LEAGUE's games, Nippon-Ham Fighters's pitcher Shohei Otani could filter the video down to "scenes with strikes," "just low courses," or "just forkballs." Players could also watch video of them doing both well and poorly at the same time, in order to make comparisons. The hassle of having to fast-forward while searching for the right scene is eliminated, and players can easily view the exact scenes they are interested in. I think this kind of technology can change the world.

Okawa: Is this technology for sale?

Oguchi: We have entered into contracts with pro baseball clubs, who use it so that players can check their own at-bats after games, search for their at-bats against southpaws from previous games, and otherwise improve their own play. The technology is also being used in school athletics to do research, including comparing a student's form with the form of players that the student admires.

Matsumoto: Recently a certain American sports league contacted us with the request for sensors they could place on their players that would measure blood pressure, pulse, acceleration, and other data so that they could show it to the general fans.

Nakanishi: I think there's no question that is the direction we will be moving in. FIFA has approved a plan to put chips on soccer players. The use of the Internet of things will shorten the distance between players and fans.

Hiroaki Dei
General Manager of Sales Management & Marketing Division
Japan Professional Football League

Dei: Just using technology for its own sake wouldn't be fun though, would it? Regardless of technology, I want spectators to be able to feel the competition between players as if they were there, in real time. That's why it's important to try all sorts of different methods of conveying that experience to the spectator. When you succeed at doing that, the spectator has fun. Do that wrong, and the spectator won't have fun.

― This discussion has reaffirmed the importance of the role we can expect information and communications technology to play when it comes to helping a culture of enjoying sports take root in Japan. Fujitsu would like to continue contributing to the enjoyment of sports in the future. Thank you for your time today.

Chisounomori (Focus Series)"Sports × Digital ─ Sharing the Thrill Even More!"

The details of this article are available in PDF format.

Click here to view the information magazine Chisounomori, which introduces the knowledge of consultants and economists.


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