JRFU to press ahead with league plan amid World Cup fever

Yamaha Jubilo head coach Katsuyuki Kiyomiya at a match between Toyota Verblitz and Yamaha Jubilo on December 15, 2018. (Photo by Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images)

Japan’s Rugby Football Union wants to move quickly ahead with plans for a new domestic league that would attract international stars, to capitalise on the excitement created by the national team’s World Cup performances.

Nikkei reports that JRFU vice president Katsuyuki Kiyomiya said he will hold a news conference in Tokyo on November 18 to set out the plans for a competition that would launch by Autumn 2021.

He said: “This World Cup is a big event Japanese rugby has not experienced before and we are tested on how we take the excitement and enthusiasm created by this event to the next level.”

Kiyomiya wants a 12-team league, running from August to January so that it doesn’t overlap with the Southern Hemisphere’s Super Rugby championship. He hopes that the league could therefore attract players from Super Rugby, although recognises there would be difficulties to surmount around contracting and player rest periods. He told Nikkei the league would aim to generate annual revenue of 50bn yen ($460m/€420m) from the sale of media and sponsorship rights.

Japan already has a domestic league, the 16-team Top League, but it is small in scale and doesn’t attract major players or generate a profit. Most teams are run under Japan’s industry-led sports model, whereby large corporations operate teams for public welfare purposes. Among the current Top League team owners are Suntory, Toyota, Toshiba and Panasonic.

Kiyomiya, who first announced his plan for a new league in July, has been speaking to potential partners about it, including advertising group Dentsu; Fujio Mitarai, the president of the Rugby World Cup 2019 Organising Committee and chairman of photographic equipment company Canon; Hiromichi Shinohara, chairman of Japanese telco NTT; and Saburo Kawabuchi, an adviser to the Japan Football Association who helped create the country’s professional football and basketball leagues. The Nikkei report mentioned sports OTT platform DAZN as another possible future partner. Kiyomiya is working on the plan with fellow JRFU board member Masaki Sakaida, who was also involved in the creation of the successful domestic basketball league, the B-League.

Kiyomiya is a former rugby coach, who has worked with Waseda University, and Top League teams Suntory Sungoliath and Jubilo Yamaha.