Japanese Professional Soccer Attendance and the Effects of Regions, Competitive Balance, and Rival Franchises

By Watanabe, Nicholas M. | International Journal of Sport Finance, November 2012 | Go to article overview

Japanese Professional Soccer Attendance and the Effects of Regions, Competitive Balance, and Rival Franchises


Watanabe, Nicholas M., International Journal of Sport Finance


Abstract

While much of the focus on professional sport is divided between North America and Europe, there is a growing need to analyze sport leagues and organizations outside of these two regions. In this paper, the J-League, Japan's top flight professional soccer league, is the focus of examination through a seasonal attendance model which seeks to test the importance of region and competitive balance in determining demand for attendance. The results of this model indicate that fans are sensitive to competitive balance, confirming the uncertainty of outcome hypothesis. Furthermore, this paper attempts to look at the differences which occur in the demand for sport from one regional type to another.

Keywords: competitive balance, Japan, J-League, uncertainty of outcome, attendance, sport, region

Introduction

Baseball and the traditional sport of Sumo Wrestling have long been considered the two more popular sporting pastimes in Japan, with Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) holding status as the premier professional sport league in the country (Whiting, 1990). While soccer leagues have existed domestically within Japan for over half a century, it was only with the formation of the J-League in 1992 that a rival professional team sport league emerged to challenge the dominance of the NPB. While the J-League has become a more established league in the two decades since its creation, the league still seems to be lurking in the shadow of the NPB. However, in recent years, the NPB has been plagued by its first ever strike and the forced merger of two teams to continue its existence, while the J-League has continued to expand and grow into an organization larger than the NPB.

In some sense, a battle between the NPB and J-League is raging, as both leagues compete against one another, trying to capture fan support and boost attendance numbers as much as possible. What is somewhat problematic in this competition is how professional sport franchises have been distributed in Japan. In North America there is often only one sport franchise per league in each market, or two franchises per league in the cases of larger markets such as New York and Chicago, while in Europe there are more markets with multiple franchises. In this sense, because of Japan's population density, there are often multiple franchises from a single league co-existing within the same city. In the case of the city of Tokyo, there are currently two J-League teams and two NPB franchises located within Tokyo (Honda, Kawai, & Hirata, 2009). Previously, many more franchises have existed within Tokyo, and in even greater numbers when looking at larger regional definitions around the Tokyo area.

In most situations professional sport leagues attempt to create monopoly power; however, this monopoly power may be lost in the case of professional sport leagues concentrating franchises within a single region such as found in Europe and Japan. Furthermore, professional sport franchises have often sought to reduce the number of teams within a single market, so as to have as few sport substitutes as possible (Nester, 1990). The unique distribution of the Japanese population, however, has forced teams into either sharing the large mega-markets with other rivals, or to try and stake a claim in a smaller market in hopes of building a loyal fan base through regional association. Cairns (1990) noted the issues in trying to measure different regions in a sophisticated manner within research. In this, there is difficulty in attempting to fully capture the "away" population which may attend a match or game, and measuring the true size of the market that attends sporting events (Cairns, 1990).

Japan presents an interesting environment in which to empirically examine and test different regional definitions of a market, and how they influence the attendance at sporting events. At the base level, the Japanese use three types of regional definitions: cities, prefectures, and regions (which are composed of multiple prefectures). …

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