Nationalization, ticket sales…the depths of the Hakone Ekiden “Great Reform Plan in 2012 | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Nationalization, ticket sales…the depths of the Hakone Ekiden “Great Reform Plan in 2012

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The Hakone Ekiden (relay race) was a big hit again this year (AFLO)

While the viewership ratings for professional baseball and soccer broadcasts are slumping, the average viewership rate is expected to exceed 20% every year, despite the long hours of broadcasting. Before the Covid-19 disaster, it can be said to be the ‘strongest sports content’ with outstanding effects in attracting visitors and publicity, including 1.21 million spectators along the route in 20 years.

In addition, from the 97th edition (2021), the uniforms of the participating university teams will be decorated with the logos of the sponsors, so even though it is a student sporting event, it is growing as a business every year.

The Hakone Ekiden is a New Year’s tradition that produces drama every year. It is said that various plans are being discussed behind the scenes to make the immensely popular Hakone Ekiden even more popular. A source at the Japan Association of Athletics Federations (JAAF) reveals that the event is being discussed behind the scenes.

A member of the Japan Association of Athletics Federations (JAAF) told us, “Susumu Hara, the coach of Seigaku University, has made some proposals, and there are discussions to increase the number of teams from the current 21 to make it a national event for the 100th relay in 2024, which will be a milestone. In addition, the current start and finish line is in Otemachi, Tokyo, but with the national championships, there are ideas to change the start and finish line to the National Stadium, and there are also proposals to sell tickets for the race and hold public viewing for a fee.

Why the “National Stadium”? Of course, there is a reason for this. As is well known, the National Stadium was completely rebuilt for the Tokyo Olympics at a cost of about 156.9 billion yen. However, it is said that the future management and operation of the stadium is still in limbo.

The cost of management and operation is said to be as high as 2.4 billion yen per year. Initially, the Japan Sports Promotion Center (JSC), which manages and operates the National Stadium, was planning to sell the stadium to a private company. The JSC then approached companies such as Rakuten (Vissel Kobe) and Mercari (Kashima Antlers), both of which operate professional soccer teams, but the high cost and lack of usability of the stadium proved to be bottlenecks, and negotiations were ultimately unsuccessful.

If nothing is done, the National Stadium will continue to incur a deficit of 2.4 billion yen every year, a situation that could become a “negative legacy. If the starting and finishing points of the Hakone Ekiden are changed, it will help improve the image of the National Stadium. This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Initially, JSC had planned to sell the site to a private company, but due to the effects of the Covid-19 disaster, it was difficult to find a buyer. However, due to the effects of the Covid-19 disaster, it was not easy to find a company that would take up the offer, so the stadium was left as is, and the spectator seating area was completely renovated. This method of building hotels and shopping malls on stadiums to generate revenue is becoming mainstream in the West.

If the start/finish line of the Hakone Ekiden is changed, it will be possible to build a Hakone Ekiden museum in the National Stadium, which is expected to attract many visitors. I’ve heard that some of the executives of the JSC are interested in the project because the Hakone Ekiden will have a huge economic impact.

However, changing the start/goal location of the Hakone Ekiden is a complicated matter, according to a JSC official.

However, there is a possibility that the companies that sponsor the race will be reluctant to change the start/finish line because of tradition. Furthermore, it is whispered that the manufacturers who sponsor the Hakone Ekiden may not be so easily dissuaded.

This is because the National Stadium is scheduled to be given naming rights, in which the name of the facility will be given to the name of the sponsor’s company or product in order to generate revenue, and a rival company is likely to acquire the rights for an annual contract of about 200 million yen.

Although there may be various barriers, it would be desirable to realize the project if it will further boost the popularity of the sport. I wonder if the Hakone Ekiden will be reborn…?

  • Reporting and writing Ryohei Osaki

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