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Is rugby in Japan on a roll after WorldCup, or will the 'rugby bubble' deflate?

17 Comments

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

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

17 Comments
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Rugby in Japan will soon be forgotten about especially with the Olympics being held in Tokyo next year.

i recall in 2015 after the 'Miracle in Brighton' when Japan beat South Africa there was a similar rugby fever as now but by the time the rugby World Cup rolled around in Japan there was little to no interest in the sport in the host nation.

11 ( +13 / -2 )

Is rugby in Japan on a roll after WorldCup, or will the 'rugby bubble' deflate?

Yes.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Of course it'll disappear. Japan is a "trendy" nation - people are quick to hop on the bandwagon for a short while. Rugby is just the latest example.

10 ( +12 / -2 )

It's already disappeared from most of the media...except for some of the sports papers and websites. Olympics and Abe have taken over again.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

After the initial swell in interest during the tournament, of course it's going to make space for other events. Doesn't mean the support and people taking the game seriously is going to evaporate. There were rugby fans and players here long, long time before Japan hosted it.

And what great hosts they are.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Sadly for the rugby team including Rich Michael this will prove to be flash in the pan - me many foreigners and just not kakko ii enough. Baseball, soccer, sumo, golf, and swimming (maybe the martial arts - judo) are the mainstays and everything else is just in the moment... including ping pong, tennis, wrestling, and basketball.... Rugby after the World Cup budget runs dry will wither....

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Olympics also has rugby , the game will not be forgotten about and there is a lot of fans who will be enthusiastic http://en.rugby-japan.jp/schedule/topleague/

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Whichever way it turns out, Japan's rugby team should be proud and make the most of the moment. And they have a reason to be proud and happy.

I took a long vacation this July going thru Canada and New England. Toronto is very proud of their Raptors winning the NBA Championships, and latterly everywhere I went in New England they were selling Patriot NFL swag. They are on a roll and they will let you know it! And when I whizzed past Boston Red Sox stadium they had a big sign saying 'We're gonna win another big one tonight!'.

Toronto, New England, Boston - and Japan rugby. Congratulations on making it to the top. Hang your heads up high and revel. Make the most of it.

And let's see what Japan can do in their Olympics next year.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

It's doomed. Hard to watch. A scrum always looks like a bunch of beefy guys laying a single egg.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

It's doomed. Hard to watch. A scrum always looks like a bunch of beefy guys laying a single egg.

LOL. Still, it's far more fun than that abomination played with dudes in battle helmets and Frankenstein's shoulder pads.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

I think the omens are good.

I don't know if the national team will continue to be as highly ranked, they may struggle without home field advantage and other teams may work them out, but I'd expect interest in the team to continue for a while yet. Rugby purists will hate me saying this, but they'll find it easier to stay popular playing the open attacking rugby they do than if they were more forward-centric.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Still, it's far more fun than that abomination played with dudes in battle helmets and Frankenstein's shoulder pads.

Exactly! All that strategy, power, superhuman speed, reflexes and hand-eye co-ordination, who needs it!

Better to have a one long group hug to make everyone fell better... er, I mean scrum.

Lol. I actually don't mind watching either. As long as the quality is high enough.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

As soon as Japan was out people stopped paying attention, it was like the whole tournament had finished to them despite being the hosts! Japanese people are only going to care if they're winning. Maybe next time there's a tournament there will be more initial interest than the last one but it'll drop off quickly if they do badly

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Never mind any bubbles. Rugby has been around for a long time in Japan. I'm sure it will continue. Should we care whether it is popular among everyone?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

how do they get to be in the olympics when they don't even have a professional team?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Although public interest in rugby may fade in the same way it does a few weeks after the latest Star Wars release, Japan does have a fairly well established rugby base in university and corporate leagues. It’s up to them now to take the opportunity to expand the sport.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Yes, but don't worry, there is always something around the corner to be a fairweather bandwagon fan of. It is a great skill of this place.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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