- Exceptional fan engagement with a female focus
- Wide diversity of quality food and drinks
- Confusing public transportation system and connectivity issues
Outside of the US, it seems that no other country and its fans are quite as passionate about baseball as the Japanese.
From the uriko beer girls to the coordinated chanting, a baseball game in Japan is a bucket-list experience for any sports fan.
I joined 37,000 fans at Kyocera Dome in Osaka on a steamy summer’s night to watch an Orix Buffaloes Pacific League game and to review the fan experience.
At 5pm on a sticky night in Osaka, hardcore Orix Buffaloes baseball fans, salarymen and families all made their way to the impressive Kyocera Dome in the city centre for the night's match against the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters.
Transport to the dome in the heart of Osaka city was quick and efficient, but with three separately owned train lines linking to the stadium, navigation was a bit confusing for a non-local to understand.
While there are no ride-sharing services in Japan the taxis are incredibly clean, cheap and readily available with a fare from the city to the stadium only costing 1000¥ (€7.70/$9.00).
Leaving the match proved hassle free – the Osaka metro system providing easy access to get fans away quickly.
Upon entering the venue I was gifted a matchday programme that featured a giant player poster, a game day stats and player profile sheet, as well as a sponsored fan hand waver.
The latter proved to be a clever promotional item in the extreme heat and I saw people waving theirs on the subway on the journey home and therefore promoting the sponsor further afield.
The opening pitches for baseball games in Osaka start at 6pm. These family friendly times are perfect for young families and there was an abundance of unbranded fan activities for young fans to participate in.
While there is no gambling, and alcoholic sponsorship is minimal, it was intriguing to see cigarette machines scattered around the venue.
On the branded front, sponsor Orix, a Japanese financial services company, had an elaborate make-up stand inside the stadium concourse featuring video tutorials in which the team’s female mascot gave instructions on how to apply make up to replicate her look.
The booth provided fans with free cosmetics such as lipsticks and eyeliners as well as mirrors to help them get ready for the game.
There might be no outrageous Dance Cam-type screen fun here but the Orix do have the ‘clap cam’ which encourages fans to clap along to a fast paced J-pop-type team song while the camera roams around the stadium capturing their smiles.
Organised chanting is also the norm here as both home and away fans respectfully take turns in singing songs, banging drums and whistling throughout the whole match.
A fun moment also took place at the bottom of the seventh inning as both sets of fans took turns in their respective sections to let go of thousands of inflated baseball bat-shaped balloons which then floated around the stadium before being rapidly picked up by stadium staff out on the field.
Further innovative features include the ability for fans to check in at the stadium via facial recognition technology stands that scan their membership cards and faces to earn loyalty points and special gameday rewards through the official fan club.
Finally, the Kyocera Dome has an underground mall that features a club shop stocking interesting items like chocolate replicas of the stadium, 'gacha gacha' kids toy boxes as well as gear from every team in the league.
This mall also includes a kids’ zone with batting cages and a fan hall of fame which honours the most ardent Orix supporters.
Security is fairly relaxed in Japanese stadiums. There was a bag search and ticket check but no wand scans, pat downs or X-ray machines in evidence.
It was quite a surreal experience to be able to legally walk around the stadium pre-game drinking a can of beer and then to also be able to pour another pre-bought convenience store beer into a team-branded cup and take it into the stadium for free.
Police and security guards patrol the stadium concourses and were on hand to assist fans. However, even though the Japanese like to get a bit rowdy and enjoy their alcohol there was absolutely no anti-social behaviour or violence at the game, which is an interesting observation on the differences in fan behaviour across cultures.
With regards to ticketing, one clever innovation allows fans to buy baseball tickets directly from a printer in any 7/11 convenience store for around 1300¥.
While the Kyocera Dome provides free high-speed Wi-Fi for fans, it is only available for customers connected to the SoftBank mobile network.
The process to register for paid Wi-Fi was also difficult, requiring fans to access a four-digit code that then needed to be typed into the device’s Wi-Fi access page.
This was a pretty time-consuming hurdle for fans to jump through just to be able to post picture and video updates from the stadium.
Restrooms were abundant and clean throughout the fully air- conditioned stadium and featured both traditional and bidet toilets with minimal wait times observed over the course of the match.
The restrooms and concourses also feature bins exclusively for the disposal of liquids. That said they were difficult to comprehend for a visitor as they are labelled as either 'burnable' or 'unburnable'.
Searching for a bite to eat from the concession stands proved to be easy due to the wide variety of affordable food and drink options available in the concourse such as giant Japanese-style sausage hotdogs, local craft beer, sake, player-branded bento boxes, or edamame and sausages wrapped in curly fries.
Established food outlets like McDonald's, Mos Burger and KFC were also present, the latter two of which also sold beer, which was convenient and saved having to line up twice.
There seemed to be no liquor licensing restrictions either as fans were allowed to drink as much as they wanted and the bars didn't close until well after the game was finished.
Moreover, while fans were able to bring their own food and drinks, beer girls dressed in colourful baseball jerseys roamed the stadium selling popcorn, dumplings, fairy floss and sushi.
The Dome also has a variety of premium Japanese restaurants that overlook the field, making for a unique dining experience.
The Orix Buffaloes match at Kyocera Dome was organised as part of the regular season of the Nippon Professional Baseball league and took place in Osaka, Japan.
Seamless security checks, smart ticketing solutions and a well-run venue easily make up for a slightly confusing public transport system and poor stadium Wi-Fi experience.
Having the ability to bring your own beers is sure to excite many fans while the exceptional customer service and diversity of food is another highlight of Kyocera Dome.
Unmissable. The atmosphere was thrillingly friendly and fan-focused.
Transport: The closest public transportation stations to the stadium are Dome-Mae on the Hanshin line or Dome-mae Chiyozaki on the Osaka subway line. Car parking is available on site starting at 1000¥ for one hour. No ride sharing services are available in Japan.
TV: The match was broadcast on Fuji Television in Japan.
Tickets: Tickets are available at the gate, from any 7/11 store, or online. Tickets purchased online can be easily sent to your hotel if coming from overseas. Ticket prices start from 1300¥ for the cheapest outfield seats and rise to 100,000¥ for corporate seating.
For more information, visit http://npb.jp/eng/
Price of a 750ml cup of beer: 750¥
Price of a coffee: 250¥
Price of a burger/sandwich: 400¥
Time taken to be served: Immediately both during pre-game and during the match. Customer service was impeccable.
Queues for toilets: No lines seen over the course of the event. Restrooms were clean and well resourced.
Blair Hughes is a passionate advocate for fans and consults with global leagues and teams to help them better engage their supporters. With a background in venue management, marketing, PR and digital media through his roles at the Gabba Cricket Ground, Queens Park Rangers, The Hammersmith Apollo and audioBoom. Follow Blair on Twitter at @MrBlairHughes.