Japan’s National Team Practice Gains 6.3 Million Support, Kurafan Project by Miyamoto Faces Criticism | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Japan’s National Team Practice Gains 6.3 Million Support, Kurafan Project by Miyamoto Faces Criticism

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Takumi Minamino of Japan high-fives a fan on December 30.

For the first time in history, Japan’s national team played at the National Stadium on New Year’s Day, beating Thailand 5-0. It was an auspicious start to 2024, and the 61,916 spectators at the stadium must have been very satisfied with the result.

Two days earlier, on December 30, a different scene was seen at the national team’s training session. A large number of spectators from the general public had come to observe the training session at the Prince Takamado Memorial JFA Yume Field in Chiba City. During open training sessions, many fans visit the field to watch the training sessions free of charge. The players looked happy as they were cheered on during the red-and-white game and shooting practice, just like in a game.

Among the general public who observed the practice, there was a group that was invited to the facility. Some of them watched the practice sessions from a special stand by the pitch, and some from the terrace of the clubhouse. This was part of the JFA Crowd Funding program announced by the Japan Football Association (JFA) last December, and as a return to those who supported the project, they were invited to areas of the facility that are normally closed to the general public.

According to the JFA, 85 people supported 20,000 yen, 6 people supported 100,000 yen, and 20 people supported 200,000 yen. These supporters were allowed a special tour of the facility. The total amount of support from the supporters who were allowed inside the practice facility that day was roughly 6.3 million yen in simple arithmetic.

It is not easy to speak directly to players alone, not only at games but also at practice, so it is understandable that supporters were happy to support the JFA by providing money to ensure that they would receive autographs and photo opportunities from the players. Needless to say, the players were happy to see the happy faces of their supporters. However, as they watched the direct communication such as autographs and high-fives as a return (i.e., for a fee), there were murmurs among the press, questioning if this was any different from a host club or resembling male entertainers.

At a press conference held last December, it was announced that, in addition to the JFA drafting the project and inviting numerous individuals and organizations for support, the JFA would also establish a crowdfunding platform accessible to regional associations, related organizations, players, instructors, referees, and individuals nationwide. The aim is to reach a total support amount of 1 billion yen and 350 draft proposals within one year by the end of 2024.

Tsuneyasu Miyamoto, JFA managing director, who is scheduled to become JFA president next April, emphasized at a press conference last December that “The JFA has created this site, but local soccer associations can also propose projects, such as raising funds for expedition expenses, and through this mutual aid system, they can support soccer families suffering from a lack of funds. The JFA is a system that allows for mutual assistance,” he emphasized. However, the press asked tough questions about the JFA, which is at the pinnacle of the Japanese soccer world, and the announcement was not entirely positive, as it failed to honor the long-established sponsors who have supported the JFA for many years.

Executive Director Tsuneyasu Miyamoto is scheduled to become the new president in April. How will the financial difficulties be resolved? Trial and error continues.

Amidst mixed opinions, the first project to be implemented is titled “Let’s build the future of the Japanese national team together!” The first phase of the project, entitled “From Youth Development to the Top of the World,” was implemented. The funds were to be used for the following three purposes:

(1) Efforts to improve the level and status of the Prince League and the JFA U-18 Soccer Premier League.
(2) Efforts to create a new specially designated player system (JFA recommendation) to produce players who will make their professional debut at the age of 16 or 17.
(3) Efforts to further improve training centers throughout Japan.

The target is 30 million yen. The shortfall will be covered by the company’s own funds and other sources.

As of January 4, 13,519,000 yen had been raised, including the 6.3 million yen from the above-mentioned practice visit, which means that 45% of the first round of this project was raised in just one day of open practice on December 30.

A fan who supports both the J-League clubs and the national team, and who also travels overseas to support the project, revealed the following about the project: 

“When I heard about this project, people around me said that they were very excited about it.”

When asked, “Not many people around me are interested in this project. As a long-time supporter of the J-League, the most enjoyable thing for me is watching the games, so I’m not really interested in paying money to get autographs and so on, even though I’m supporting the project. But I think it’s nice to be able to receive fan service without being buried under others by paying for it, isn’t it? I think it’s attractive to, say, individual player fans.”

The fact that they were able to raise a not insignificant amount of money in an instant may have been very appealing to those who had the financial means to support them. However, if the impression that one cannot even shake hands with the national team players without paying a certain amount of money is the only thing that precedes the event, there is a risk that those who are interested in soccer will be limited both in terms of their pocketbook and interest, causing fans to drift away from the sport.

The true value of the Japanese national team lies in the matches themselves, the results, and the content, and it would make sense to try to increase ticket sales by increasing the number of seat types and employing other strategies. The match against Thailand on New Year’s Day, despite the absence of popular players such as Kaoru Mitoma, Kubo Takefusa, and Takehiro Tomiyasu, was attended by more than 60,000 spectators, and the revenue must not have been bad (Nikkan Sports estimated that Sergio Echigo’s income would have been in the hundreds of millions). The first priority should be to increase the value of the games themselves.

Overall, this should be a groundbreaking attempt for the soccer family to support each other, and I wonder if it could be managed a little smarter.

  • Reporting and writing Miko Ryokai Photo Koki Nagahama (first photo), Kyodo News (second photo)

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