Will the team operate on a shoe-string budget and not capture the public’s attention from the get-go?
Will it be marketed and promote properly and have legitimate support from the league office to survive in the long run?
Let’s take a look back to last June, when the Tokyo Apache pulled out of the league, which prompted lively discussion among league sources, and dozens of emails and phone calls in the days that followed, included the following:
“This is a perfect example of the bj-league failing to market the league properly,” one league source said, reacting to the news. “How can the biggest city in Japan and one of the top in the world lose its franchise? How can a small island like Okinawa draw the biggest crowds in the league?
“I think the reason the Ryukyu Kings are successful is (CEO) Jun Yasunaga. Jun went to the University of Indiana and was part of the New Jersey Nets front office. Jun brought a huge amount of knowledge and experience and knowledge to Okinawa. The Kings are still conducting clinics even though the league was finished a few weeks ago.
“Teams need to go to the kids and basketball clubs and get these people to attend the games. Tokyo was in my eyes arrogant and complacent. They tried the L.A. Laker approach too quick and gave up too early.
“I am also surprised with season ticket sales. A courtside seat for an Oita Heat Devil game was double the price of a Kings game. They increased the price last season and nobody showed up. It makes more sense to me to sell 1,000 tickets at 1000 yen rather than 55 at 2,000 yen.
“Marketing has got to improve or the league will go nowhere. I went to the finals again this year and sat in amazement of how many Kings fans were in the arena (Ariake Colosseum). Okinawa Prefecture has one of the lowest average incomes in the country and fans had to travel the most distance to watch the game but still had the most fans in attendance.
“Perhaps the commissioner needs to bring Mr. Yasunaga to the league front office or hire some American basketball consultants to get the league going in the right direction.
“I have played in basketball tournaments in Oita, Nagasaki and Gunma so I know there is a huge basketball fan base. The league needs to get out and market the teams.”
The source, reflecting on the rapid pace of expansion and how it has outpaced the growth of players, also blurted out: “I can also assure you that with the current rules in place concerning foreign players and the new expansion teams the games are going to become less entertaining. There are not enough talented Japanese players that will make the games competitive. I am sorry but I don’t want to see three Japanese players scoring less than 10 percent of the game’s total points.”
Reading the above remarks, another longtime hoop observer said that the first source made “two great points.”
*Point A: Perhaps the commissioner needs to bring Mr. Yasunaga to the league front office or hire some American basketball consultants to get the league going in the right direction.
“The league definitely needs someone, probably more than one, in the front office with business and basketball experience,” the second source pointed out. “Even just common sense would be helpful! And have standards and procedures that everyone must meet. I remember (commissioner Toshimitsu) Kawachi saying something like the Apache were trying things that they weren’t sure would work, but they were going to let them try anyway. Well they did their own thing right out of the league, and taking the Tokyo franchise with them.
“All that money wasted, when it probably could have been done much better, for much less. I remember talking to Conor (ex-Apache GM Conor Neu) on the phone for over an hour, describing many of the difficulties of running a team in Tokyo, but then they just seemed to ignore or brush aside all advice and suggestions. With the league enabling them by allowing them not to play an home games in 2010, etc. (Writer’s note: The Apache’s first home was on Jan. 6, 2011, though the season started in mid-October). Not smart from either party.
”This should be a wakeup call to get rid of any other under-performing teams, like Takamatsu and Oita, and maybe a few others, but it doesn’t appear that there is any willingness to make those tough decisions that could strengthen the league in the long run.”
*Point B: I can also assure you that with the current rules in place concerning foreign players and the new expansion teams the games are going to become less entertaining. There are not enough talented Japanese players that will make the games competitive. I am sorry but I don’t want to see three Japanese players scoring less than percent of the game’s total points.
“This is probably where basketball will continue to struggle and fail in Japan. Other than (Link Tochigi Brex point guard Yuta) Tabuse, there aren’t any Japanese players that the general population will pay to see on a regular basis,” the second source declared. “The JBL isn’t setting any attendance records, and they already have all the best Japanese players. Everyone thought that the bj-league would fail in year one because ‘no one wants to see so many foreign players on the court,’ as one former JBL import player told me. And yet the league has found its niche in certain markets, Okinawa being the best example.
“Remember (head coach Kensaku) Tennichi succeeded in Osaka those first three seasons -- (winning three championships) -- by often playing four imports at a time.
“As the league pushes towards both expansion AND two imports on the court -- and ‘merge-ability’ with the JBL -- it may find itself losing fans.
“Spain has been one of the more successful European countries in producing NBA players. But I remember going there one year, and one of their top teams, Vitoria, had only two Spanish players on the team that season! And they barely played. And a few years later they sent Luis Scola (Argentina) and Tiago Splitter (Brazil) to the NBA. The more you put the best players on the court, the more the local players will be forced to improve. And there are four Spanish players in the NBA – Jose Manuel Calderon (Toronto Raptors), Rudy Fernandez (Portland Trail Blazers), Marc Gasol (Memphis Grizzlies) and Pau Gasol (Los Angeles Lakers).”
Spanish update: Minnesota Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio has made a strong impact in his rookie campaign in the NBA.