SBJ/April 3-9, 2017/Franchises

Japanese team opening NYC office

Kashima Antlers were runner-up in last year’s FIFA Club World Cup.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
Kashima Antlers Football Club will become the first Japanese soccer club to set up an office outside of its home country, opening one in New York.

Antlers, Japan’s most successful club and the reigning champions of the Japan Professional Football League, gained international recognition when it played Real Madrid in the final of the FIFA Club World Cup in December, losing in extra time.

That result, as well as the celebration of the club’s 25th anniversary, has led to the push overseas, said Yohei Kasuga, who heads Antlers’ communications group within its commercial department.

“Everything we have been doing has been targeted to the domestic market, but we really feel for our club to step up a gear or two we need to put ourselves on the global map,” he said. “With the level of global interest we’ve received following the final against Real Madrid, we felt this would benefit us a great deal as a start of the next 25 years.”

Antlers’ challenge will be visibility. No one holds the league’s media rights in the U.S. now after previous deals with One World Sports and startup soccer streaming platform NGSN. But British sports media company Perform Group last year signed a 10-year deal with the J.League for its domestic digital rights, reported to be worth more than $2.05 billion. The league is hoping that it can strike digital distribution deals in other countries, or that Perform’s DAZN streaming service spreads, Kasuga said.

In the near term, Antlers will take a digital approach, cribbing notes from MLS’s successes. “We know that MLS has made great advances in terms of digitally connecting with supporters and fans, and we want to do the same here,” he said. The club’s site is now available in English, and it has launched U.S.-focused social media platforms, hoping Instagram’s image-heavy platform transcends language differences.

Kasuga said this is a push not only into the U.S. market but the rest of the English-speaking world as well. The time difference from Japan makes it hard to arrange meetings with European or South American businesses, and he said he hopes the New York time zone and easier access to those markets by air will help broaden the club’s business.

Antlers’ jersey provider is Nike, and it has partnerships with several sponsors that do business both in the U.S. and the broader Western Hemisphere. They include Japanese distilling company Suntory Holdings, which acquired Jim Beam parent company Beam in 2014.

Kasuga said the club hopes the office, which is in Times Square, will allow for interaction with other foreign clubs that have established offices in the U.S., such as Barcelona and Bayern Munich, as well as with MLS and its clubs. There are no plans for Antlers to send its club to the U.S. this summer, but the club is interested in playing friendlies versus MLS clubs.

Soccer consultants Blue United Corp. are setting up and managing the office alongside the club. Takehiko Nakamura, Blue United Corp. president and CEO, will serve as Antlers’ global strategy officer. Antlers executives are scheduled to visit the office in June, with plans to hire additional staff in the near future.

Kashima is roughly 70 miles northeast of Tokyo. The club is owned by the Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal Corp., Japan’s largest steelmaker and third largest in the world.


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