Was all that excitement just an illusion? That's what Nikken Gendai (Dec 10) is asking, in reference to the Rugby World Cup. This year's event marked the first time that Japan, as host nation, made it as far as the final eight.
Then in the quarterfinals, the national team was trounced by South Africa. But since it was eliminated by the eventual tournament winner, Japan could stand proudly with its head held high.
During the games, both NHK and the private TV networks whipped up their audiences to the proverbial frenzy.
"The games in which the Japanese team played typically realized viewer ratings of from 20% to 40%," a TV network program director told the tabloid. "A lot of the players' names were completely unknown to the fans, and the fact that some were just ordinary citizens perhaps gave them an aura of mystery that the fans found appealing. They remained glued to their TV screens throughout and pushed up the viewer ratings."
Immediately following the tournament, the players were almost ubiquitous, appearing on sports programs, news broadcasts, variety shows and so on, on a constant basis.
"Some prime-time evening shows were paying the athletes 1 million yen or more per appearance," the aforementioned program director is quoted as saying. "We had Michael Leitch, and good-looking hunks like Kazuki Himeno and Yu Tamura, and Keita Inagaki, 'the man who absolutely never cracks a smile,' stirred interest after it became known that he'd been dating former AKB48 performer Asuka Kuramochi. His TV appearances took on the formula of the same thing just being repeated again and again."
Fortunately or unfortunately, from January 2020, it appears that TV networks have no plans to broadcast anything connected with rugby. Why? A TV writer puts it like this: "TV is sensitive to trends, and it looks like rugby's 'consume by' date kicked in extremely early. The TV planners feel like the rugby players have been 'licked clean,' and what's more, there are no upcoming international competitions in the immediate future. They simply can't keep trying to generate interest in the World Cup forever. It's over."
In other words, as far as Japan is concerned, things are turning out to be pretty much a repeat performance of what happened after the Rugby World Cup of four years earlier.
"Four years ago at the World Cup in the UK, Japan won a major victory over South Africa, racked up three wins and was just a step away from making it to the final eight," a source involved in sports tells Nikkan Gendai. "The excitement in Japan was pervasive. The Japan Rugby Association undertook moves to maintain its popularity, but in the end nothing happened. After the end of the tournament, the Japan Top League was unable to attract fans and wound up in the red. It looks like history's going to repeat itself."
But now the Yomiuri-affiliated Nihon TV Network, which previously broadcast many of the World Cup games, is reportedly behind a scheme to organize a professional rugby league.
"There were movements beneath the surface to set up a team, and to bring in Hulu, which the network had acquired, as a main sponsor," said a source at the Nihon TV network. "This had been ordered by NTV president Yoshinobu Kosugi himself. The project was to be operated by an ICT strategy section, involving people at sports stations and the top levels of regular broadcast stations.
"Close talks are ongoing between members of the association and other parties to establish a professional rugby league in Japan," he added.
So now the question everyone is asking is, will Nihon TV become the "savior" that sustains rugby's popularity? Or will things fall flat again?© Japan Today