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2009年1月13日 (火)



--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 8(IHT/Asahi: January 9,2009)

EDITORIAL: Companies and sports


Sports cannot remain unaffected by the economic downturn, which has been described as unprecedented. Indeed, companies are increasingly withdrawing their sponsorships or closing down their sports teams.


In the slightly more than a decade since the collapse of the asset-inflated economic boom in the early 1990s, more than 300 corporate teams, including prestigious and powerful ones, have disappeared from such sports as baseball, track and field, rugby and volleyball.


Less than 10 years later, a bleak atmosphere is once again shrouding the corporate sports world.


In motor sports, Honda Motor Co. announced its withdrawal from Formula One racing. Suzuki Motor Corp. and Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., the maker of Subaru cars, both announced their withdrawal from the FIA World Rally Championship. As a result, all Japanese cars will disappear from WRC competitions.


Prince Hotels Inc., a Seibu Railway group company, also announced it will fold its distinguished ice hockey team after this season. Onward Holding Co., a major apparel group, will end its American football powerhouse with a nearly 30-year history at the conclusion of this season.


Honda reportedly spends more than 50 billion yen a year to manage its F1 team. With so much money involved, the decision to withdraw is not unreasonable. On the other hand, some withdrawals and team closures are hard to understand.


In the postwar era, companies started to support sports activities as part of employee benefit plans with the aim of improving worker morale. With high economic growth, corporate sports expanded and teams competed at the pinnacle of each sport.


As a result, corporate sports later played the role of advertisers and promoters.

But the trend also served as the primer to push companies to close down sports teams with the burst of the asset-inflated economic bubble. This time, too, we suspect many companies cut their teams in the same way as they slashed their advertising budgets.


Under these circumstances, a new trend is starting to emerge in the field.


Bullseyes Tokyo, an American football team that will be promoted to the X League next season, has been calling on fans to become "citizen shareholders" in support of the club team. The citizen shareholders pay an annual membership fee of between several thousand yen and about 100,000 yen.


In American football in Japan, where the number of purely corporate-run teams continues to decline, the players themselves are starting to look for ways to run their teams.


Measures are also emerging to give corporate sports a more amateur-oriented look, as in the past.

All players on the Kumamoto Golden Larks amateur baseball team, which is owned by a Kumamoto-based supermarket operator, work as sales clerks.


The move runs counter to the trend in which athletes employed by companies devote themselves entirely to athletic activities to compete at the higher levels of corporate sports. But members of the Kumamoto team do not have to worry about how to support themselves once they retire from baseball.


In the three years since its establishment, the team has entered the Intercity Baseball Tournament for two straight years. The operator chose not to put the company's name on the uniforms because it wants the team to win over Kumamoto residents. Some shoppers are voluntarily forming fan groups.


Why not turn the current predicament into an opportunity to rebuild the relationship between sports, businesses and local communities?


Cooperation with education should also be advanced to fill the demand for capable personnel. More universities in the last few years have established departments for the study of sports business and management.


However, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology oversees school and professional sports, while corporate sports come under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. It is time to remove administrative sectionalism and think about promoting sports as a whole.



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