Wizards seeking to become Japan’s team

Monumental Sports & Entertainment vice-chairman and owner Raul Fernandez and president of business operations and chief commercial officer Jim Van Stone this month will visit Tokyo to meet 20 corporations over five days in pursuit of a larger presence after the National Basketball Association’s Washington Wizards, owned by MSE, drafted Japanese-born star Rui Hachimura this past June.

It’s also the team’s second visit there in six weeks after signing the NBA’s first sponsorship deal in Japan with NEC Corporation.

“Japan is that next big market and opportunity for us and Rui is going to help establish that,” Van Stone said. “Washington, D.C. is a very international city and the opportunity for us to go over there and introduce our brand is very humbling. I think we’ve been very pleased in the engagement of people to see him live and in person.”

Only the third Japanese player in the NBA and its first potential bonafide star, Hachimura is followed by a large contingent of Japanese media on a daily basis. Averaging 13.6 points and 6.1 rebounds over eight games shows the former Gonzaga star selected in the first round in June will be at least a steady producer for the Wizards.

Hachimura also plans to play for Japan in the 2020 Olympics to help broaden his appeal. Van Stone says Monumental can tailor content to the sponsor, many of whom are Fortune 500 companies.

“There’s no one industry we’re looking at,” he said. “Through our social media assets, we can pick and choose for programming for each partner.”

Monumental has embraced the Japanese market both overseas and domestically. In less than two months, its website, social media, and podcasts in Japanese have collectively drawn 28 million impressions, including 8 million in the past week, with six million video views and 300,000 interactions. A recent Washington home game saw 100 workers from the nearby World Bank along with 70 Japanese students attending local universities.

“The Japanese explosion of interest is almost been like a startup,” Fernandez said. “In six weeks, you’ve watched something new and seen through the engagement how popular, how exciting, how authentic it is.”

Van Stone likened Hachimura’s arrival to Russian superstar Alexander Ovechkin, who raised the Washington Capitals to annual National Hockey League contenders, and ultimately league champions. Monumental controls both the Capitals and Wizards.

“If you think back to hockey in Washington, D.C….the explosion was with a star [Ovechkin],” Van Stone said. “When people can identify and follow a journey, that’s when it gets viral and that’s what we have with Rui Hachimura.

“We realized quickly that we needed to be very engaged. Content allows us to make sure fans in Japan feel like they’re actually here in D.C. and seeing his career grow and blossom,” he said.

Japan is just the first international stop for Monumental. Its basketball and hockey teams have multiple other international players who can be the gateway to diverse global sponsorships.

“With 190-plus embassies [in Washington], we want to be the international team of flavor for all markets of the world,” Van Stone said. “I see Germany, France, Latvia as future opportunities. There’s incredible opportunity for international players and teams to create a platform around them.”